As part of its preview of the 2015 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. RPI and SOS data from realtimerpi.com. Adjusted offense and defense are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team’s national rank. All stats are through Monday, March 16.
Record: 21-13 (9-9 Big East)
Adjusted offensive/defensive efficiency: 111.9 (28th)/96.1 (54th)
Seed: West No. 6
Impact player: Trevon Bluiett, freshman, forward. 11.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 111.2 offensive rating
The Case For: It’s almost surprising that the Musketeeers haven’t enjoyed a higher level of success this season. Coach Chris Mack has a balanced, selfless group that isn’t mistake-prone. This is a top-30 offense in the efficiency rankings, per kenpom.com, driven by a mission to move the ball and find the open man. Xavier’s 545 total assists ranks eighth in the country, and its assist percentage (63.2) ranks 13th. Meanwhile its assist-to-turnover ratio (1.36) ranks 24th.
Six players average between 8.5 and 12.0 points per game, suggesting that one guy’s bad night won’t undermine the entire NCAA tournament run. And if Xavier isn’t elite in grittier areas, it’s certainly good enough. It sits just outside the top 50 in the defensive efficiency rankings and in rebound percentage, with good size in the frontcourt (Matt Stainbrook and Jalen Reynolds at 6’10”, Blueitt at 6’6”). This somehow was the sixth-place team in the Big East this year, with a 9-9 record in conference play, but the Musketeers may not have come close to reaching their ceiling.
The Case Against: Xavier has a wildly inconsistent résumé. Wins over Butler by 17, Georgetown by 13, even a 27-point November victory over Murray State, a team that won’t make the NCAA field but should. And then there are the losses to Auburn, UTEP, Long Beach State, DePaul and Creighton. It’s been an ongoing identity crisis for a team that has eight RPI top-50 wins but also four losses to teams ranked between 101 and 200.
That instability is enough to make anyone nervous about picking the Musketeers to advance. And then there’s their youth. Bluiett is a freshman. Myles Davis and Reynolds are just sophomores, with only a First Four loss to N.C. State last year under their belts as NCAA tournament experience. And while the defensive efficiency ranking is decent, Xavier often allows good looks; opponents are shooting 48.7% on two-point attempts, which places the Musketeers 230th nationally in that category.
SI prediction: Lose in the Round of 64 to Ole Miss