NCAA Tournament Bubble Breakdown: West Virginia vs. Xavier
As Connecticut stumbled yet again on Tuesday night, fellow Big East bubble-team West Virginia was able to avoid a similarly devastating loss.
While UConn suffered a brutal 72-70 at the hands of Providence—the league’s second-to-last-place team—WVU dominated against last-place DePaul, winning 92-75. With the victory, the Mountaineers snapped a four-game home losing streak which was capped by a tough loss to Marquette last Friday.
Meanwhile, Xavier was also fighting to improve their position on the NCAA Tournament bubble Tuesday night. However, it faced a bigger challenge than West Virginia. The Musketeers lost at Saint Louis—the second-place team in the Atlantic 10—by a final of 70-59. It was Xavier’s second loss to SLU this season.
Where do the Mountaineers and Musketeers now stand in the tourney picture after their most recent games? Here’s a look at each, with records and rankings listed below.
West Virginia: 18-12, 8-9 Big East; RPI: 50, SOS: 10
Xavier: 18-11, 9-6 A-10; RPI: 54, SOS: 51
Notable common opponents: Cincinnati (both beat), Oral Roberts (WVU beat, Xavier lost to)
RPI/SOS information from realtimerpi.com, updated Feb. 28
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West Virginia: Why It Gets in
No. 10 SOS
In addition to the usual rigorous Big East schedule, West Virginia also challenged itself in the non-conference portion of its schedule. That has helped give the Mountaineers a Top 10 overall strength of schedule and third highest among Big East teams.
WVU’s non-league opponents included Baylor, Kansas State, Miami and Mississippi State, among others. Overall, it has faced 12 teams this season currently in the RPI Top 50.
With 30 total games played, that means 40 percent of the Mountaineers’ full schedule has been against teams good enough to play in the NCAA Tournament. They have certainly been thoroughly battle tested.
Four Top 50 Wins
Of those 12 RPI Top 50 games WVU has played, it managed to win four of them. While that doesn’t work out to an outstanding winning percentage, the Mountaineers have proved on multiple occasions that they can beat quality teams.
WVU’s four Top 50 wins include Georgetown within the Big East, as well as Kansas State, Miami and Oral Roberts outside the league. With three Top 50 wins in their non-conference profile, the Mountaineers will have a bit of an advantage over many bubble teams in that area.
WVU’s win over Georgetown back on Jan. 7 qualifies as a signature win on its profile. The Hoyas are a borderline top-10 team and looking at a potential No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Compared to many of the other bubble teams out there, WVU has the kind of signature win that most do not possess. It may be just enough to get the Mountaineers over the hump.
West Virginia: Why It's Left out
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A Pair of Two-Point Losses
Had West Virginia been able to pull out one of two tight games against top-10 teams, it would most likely not be in this discussion. However, it missed out on both chances to earn a second signature win.
Back in December, WVU lost in overtime to then-unbeaten Baylor in Las Vegas. A month later, the Mountaineers were robbed of a chance to take Syracuse to overtime, losing by two after a goaltend which would have tied the game in the final seconds if not called.
Instead, WVU finds itself having to hope that the win over Georgetown will be enough to impress the selection committee.
USF-Like Big East Wins
A lot has been made about South Florida’s Big East record being inflated by beating up on the bottom of the league. However, a closer look at WVU’s conference wins shows it has much of the same lack of substance as USF.
Of WVU’s eight Big East wins, six of them are against the bottom five teams of the league. Two are against Rutgers, along with one apiece over Villanova, Pittsburgh, Providence and now DePaul.
Those five teams are a combined 19-63 in conference play. That won’t get the Mountaineers very far.
Even with the win over DePaul, WVU has really struggled over the past month. It has lost seven of its past 10 games, a stretch which began with a 16-point loss at St. John’s. Also included in that stretch are home losses, including one to a Pitt team just 4-12 in league play.
The home losses are particularly alarming and very uncharacteristic for typical WVU teams. It has had plenty of chances to secure a tourney spot in Morgantown and continually failed to do so.
Xavier: Why It Gets in
Each year, the selection committee enforces the idea that teams should go out and challenge themselves in the non-conference portion of the schedule. Xavier took that message to heart for this season, scheduling the likes of Vanderbilt, Memphis, Gonzaga, Purdue, Cincinnati and a trip to Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic.
In all, Xavier played six teams in the RPI Top 50 outside the Atlantic 10. That kind of rigorous schedule will earn the Musketeers some additional credit with the committee.
Early Season Wins
Even with that kind of schedule, Xavier fared quite respectably. It won perhaps the toughest game of all of those, at Vanderbilt. Shortly after that, Xavier also beat Purdue and Cincinnati, two other teams very likely to be in the NCAA Tournament.
With Vandy and Purdue both in the RPI Top 40, Xavier has two high-quality non-conference wins that many other teams simply do not have.
Atlantic 10 Strength and Depth
The Atlantic 10 usually has two or three very good teams at the top, but often sees a significant drop-off in the quality of teams after the league’s top tier. This year, however, the middle of the league has been very good, thus helping the strength of the A-10 as a whole as the nation's No. 7-rated conference, according to RPI.
With Temple leading the way at No. 15, the A-10 has eight teams currently in the RPI Top 100 (plus St. Bonaventure at No. 101). The lowest-rated team Xavier has lost to in league play is La Salle at No. 89. Xavier has consistently played solid competition within the league.
Xavier: Why It's Left out
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Swept by Saint Louis
Xavier’s loss Tuesday night was the second to Saint Louis this season. It also lost to SLU at home a month ago.
While losing twice to the A-10’s second-best team isn’t terrible by any means, it does represent a couple of missed opportunities for Xavier to cushion its at-large profile a bit.
Combined with a double-digit loss at Temple a couple weeks ago, Xavier went 0-for-3 against the A-10’s only two very-likely tourney teams. Dayton beat both Temple and SLU, meaning Xavier is likely to fall below the Flyers in the hierarchy of A-10 teams worthy of a bid.
2-7 vs. Top 50
After a second loss to Saint Louis, Xavier is now just 2-7 against the RPI Top 50 this season. With both of those wins coming back in the early portion of the schedule, Xavier has come up short seven straight times against quality, tournament-worthy competition.
With numerous opportunities to add quality wins to its profile and failing to do so, Xavier has not taken much charge of its own destiny. Or, with the losses, maybe it has.
This is the date that both the Xavier and Cincinnati programs won’t soon forget. The “Crosstown Brawl” has had lasting effects on both teams, but Xavier in particular has been most adversely affected.
Since that game, which Xavier won over Cincinnati, the Musketeers have looked like a very different team.
They were 8-0 as of Dec. 10. After that, they lost five out of six, including a 22-point loss to Oral Roberts and a loss to a Hawaii team with an RPI approaching 200.
Overall, Xavier is just 10-11 since that pivotal day in December. It certainly has not played like an at-large-worthy team since starting 8-0, and there’s a very good chance the committee will judge Xavier based on how they’ve played post-brawl.
Who Gets In?
In mid-December, neither of these teams—especially Xavier—figured to ever be battling over one of the final spots in the Field of 68. However, the recent struggles of each—particularly West Virginia—put them in this position.
West Virginia has the better signature win (Georgetown) compared to Xavier (Vanderbilt). WVU also has two more Top 50 wins, though Xavier has a win over No. 51 St. Joseph’s that should be noted in the Top 50 discussion.
Both teams have similar records on road/neutral courts (WVU 6-7, Xavier 6-8).
However, WVU has done very little in the past five weeks to enhance its case, despite repeated opportunities—especially at home—to do so. Losing seven out of their last 10, with the only three wins in that time coming against teams in the bottom-fourth of the Big East, make the Mountaineers look like anything but a tournament team.
Xavier, though not too much better in recent weeks, did recently beat a Dayton team who is trending upward and would likely be an at-large team at the moment.
In addition, Xavier went out of its way to challenge itself in non-conference play, including a game at Memphis earlier this month. That is something the committee really likes to see.
That said, the committee does have to try and figure out which Xavier team would show up to the NCAA Tournament, should it select them. Is it more like the one who started 8-0 and in the Top 10, or the one who lost five of six after the Cincinnati fight?
There’s probably a stronger case to leave each team out of the NCAAs rather than put one in, but if I had to pick one, I’d take Xavier—barely.
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