By: Craig James
What a roller coaster ride Sunday afternoon must have been for the Xavier Musketeers, as they were the last team to hear their named called for the big dance. After their performance in the Big East tournament they seemed like a lock to make it, but were definitely sweating bullets when they didn’t hear they named called until the very end.
Coming into this season, Xavier had higher expectations than ever before as they started the season ranked #7. Has Xavier lived up to those expectations this year? That answer is pretty clear, but none of that matters now. Their ticket has been punched for March Madness and as we all know, anything can happen. Just last year Syracuse made the Final Four as a #10 seed… so it can be done (fans of all higher seeded teams are using this as hope).
Xavier was dealt some tough blows this year no doubt about it. Myles Davis was supposed to play a major role in his senior season. Off the court issues resulted in him leaving the program. One of Xavier’s top players and one of the most electrifying players in the Big East went down with a torn ACL in Edmond Sumner. Trevon Bluiett sprained his ankle and missed multiple games, which started Xavier’s six game losing streak that almost made them miss out on March Madness all together. Trevon’s been battling through the ankle injury and has been playing great. Struggling mightily down the stretch of the regular season, Xavier was definitely in jeopardy of missing the NCAA Tournament.
Most college basketball experts needed Xavier to definitely win one if not two games in the Big East Tournament, which came in wins over DePaul (the only team Xavier could beat for a while) and a huge win over 18th ranked Butler. Xavier ultimately fell to Creighton as All Big East player Marcus Foster drained a three with 6.9 seconds left. Tough loss for the Muskies, but the win over Butler and great performance, albeit in a loss, to Creighton solidified the Muskies a spot in the big dance.
Xavier’s opening round matchup comes against the #6 seed Maryland Terrapins. Maryland is coming into the tournament 24-8 and finished second in the Big Ten regular season. They got bounced out of the Big Ten Tournament by the Fightin’ Darren Rovell’s (aka Northwestern).
The Terrapins and Musketeers share one common opponent this season: Georgetown. Maryland defeated Georgetown 76-75; Xavier defeated Georgetown twice this season. In each of the last twelve tournament appearances Maryland has won at least one tournament game, a streak Xavier will look to snap Thursday night.
Melo Trimble was supposed to be one and done at Maryland and three years later he is still in College Park. Bluiett and Trimble going shot for shot come Thursday night should be fun to watch. Trimble leads the way for the young Terrapin team that starts three freshmen. Xavier recruited some of these guys, so Chris Mack and his staff are at least somewhat familiar with them. On paper, Xavier and Maryland are pretty similar teams.
Xavier averages 74.6 PPG while Maryland is 74.2. Xavier gives up slightly more PPG at 71.4 compared to 67.8. Both teams aren’t that great at free throw shooting. Xavier is hoping to dance a little bit longer this March. All Xavier fans remember last year when they were bounced out by a buzzer beating three by the Wisconsin Badgers.
I still don’t know how that shot went in… I mean c’mon the guy was fading away in the corner and the ball pretty much went over the backboard, but I digress… I think I can speak for most Xavier fans when I say I’m still pissed about that loss because I loved watching that Xavier team last year. Hopefully this March has a better ending…
It’s pretty cool to see seniors play in their first NCAA Tournament. One of many factors that make March Madness so fun to watch. This is the case for Xavier’s Malcolm Bernard and RaShid Gaston. Both players transferred into the Xavier program and will get their first glimpse of the big stage come Thursday night. It is even sweeter for Malcolm Bernard, as he gets to play a couple hours from home in his tournament debut. You can never count out a team when they have a player like Trevon Bluiett. Everybody remembers his 40 point performance in the Crosstown Shootout this year and he is capable of going off like that again. Bluiett will have to put the Musketeers on his back if they want to make a run in March. Something he is definitely capable of doing. Thursday night will feature a great one on one matchup with Trimble v Bluiett and should be a great game. In the words of DMX “X gon give it to ya.”
Prediction: Musketeers 72 Terrapins 68.