Xavier Looking To Take Their 1 Seed and Run
By: Craig James
The bracket has been unveiled and as many expected Xavier earned their first #1 seed in school history. The Musketeers winning the Big East regular season title and going 9-5 verse the 2018 NCAA Tournament Field propelled them to this #1 seed. The fourth overall #1 seed, which means the Muskies, will hopefully be headed out West. Xavier opens up their 2018 NCAA Tournament run against a team that no one has ever heard of Friday at 7:20.
If you listen to college basketball “experts” you’ll hear mixed opinions towards this Xavier team. You’ll hear anywhere from they’ll be the first #1 seed bounced out of the tournament in the second round, to Xavier making the championship game, and everything in between. Muskie fans should have full confidence in this senior led team. Xavier will make a run in March because they are deep, senior led, explosive on the offensive end, make their free throws, and have a player in Trevon Bluiett, who can catch fire NBA Jam style, (i.e. last March when he was the second leading scorer in the tournament). Last year Bluiett was named to the All-Tournament Team after he averaged 21.3 PPG during Xavier’s run.
This Xavier team is deep. The rotation is nine deep. Trevon Bluiett obviously leads the way and we’ll talk about him more later on, but this team is more than just Bluiett this year. In games where he wasn’t on, which wasn’t too often, other guys stepped up. We all know about J.P. and what he brings to the table. Xavier has good guard play in Quentin Goodin and Paul Scruggs. We all remember how Sean O’Mara played last March, he was a force. Xavier is able to keep their big men fresh with the rotation of O’Mara and Tyrique Jones. O’Mara averages 15 minutes a game and Jones 14.9. Their stat sheet is virtually the same, but O’Mara will get the minutes down the stretch because he is a much better free throw shooter than Jones. Chris Mack is able to play a variety of lineups and dictate matchups against teams. Mack can go big or small with this squad. Kerem Kanter has been outstanding this season as a Grad Transfer; he scored in double figures in 14 Big East games. Naji Marshall was a unanimous selection to the Big East All-Freshman team, after averaging almost 9 points and 5 rebounds per game. Marshall showed his ability to take over games when he had back to back 20 point games earlier in the season.
If Xavier’s going to make a magical run in March they need Kaiser Gates to contribute. He is too good of a player to not fill up a stat sheet. He has the size and quickness. You could even make the argument the Musketeers go as Kaiser Gates goes. When Xavier wins he averages 8.3 ppg and when they lose he averages 2.4 ppg. That is the largest win/loss point differential of any player on the team. Case in point, Xavier needs Gates to step up.
Seniors lead the way for the Musketeers. During last year’s run Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura, and Sean O’Mara were X’s three best players… good news…they are all still on the team. Bluiett, Macura, and O’Mara all averaged double figures last March. That’s how you make the Elite 8. Have one more weapon step up this year, cough Kaiser Gates, cough and this team is heading to the Final Four. The three seniors mentioned have won 103 games while at Xavier and 6 NCAA Tournament games.
Xavier is explosive on the offensive end. They come into March as the nation’s 11th highest scoring offense. They have three guys that average double figure points in Bluiett, Macura, and Kanter. Naji Marshall and Quentin Goodin are both more than capable of making buckets as well. Marshall scored in double figures 12 times this season and Goodin did it 17. Xavier ranks 7th in the nation in offensive efficiency and is 17th in the nation in field goal percentage. Long story short, Xavier can fill it up.
The Musketeers make their free throws. They are 6th in the nation in free throw percentage at 79%. Their starters average 81%; this will help X put teams away down the stretch.
Last, but certainly not least, Trevon Bluiett. Where do I begin here? The things Trevon Bluiett has accomplished at Xavier will certainly lead to his jersey hanging from the Cintas Center rafters one day. He’s Xavier second all-time leading scorer. He has 315 career 3-pointers which is a school record. He is three 3’s shy of the single season record. He is 11th all-time on Xavier’s rebounding list. He’s been selected All Big East, All American, and has made it to the Elite 8.
There isn’t much Trevon Blueitt hasn’t accomplished in his Xavier career. There is one thing though and it’s what brought him back to campus this year. To lead his team to the Final Four. Bluiett has positioned the Musketeers for just that. Earning the first one seed in school history, winning their first Big East regular season title, breaking the record for most regular season wins, and if X makes it back to the Elite 8 this team will break the record for most wins in a season. Bluiett has taken Xavier to new heights and places honestly, as a Xavier fan, I never even dreamt about. It wasn’t that long ago X was playing at Cincinnati Gardens and in the A-10 Conference. No one outside of the city could pronounce Xavier the correct way and now here they are a one seed in the big dance. The rise of the Xavier Basketball program has been incredible. Past great players, Byron Larkin, David West, Brian Grant, Anthony Hicks, Tyrone Hill, Lenny Brown, Tu Holloway, Romain Sato, and many others, have paved the way for Bluiett and his team to do something they could never do. Make the Final Four. It all starts Friday at 7:20.