By: Donnie Menke ~Staff Writer~
It was a tough draw for the Musketeers on Selection Sunday, even though they drew the #6 overall seed and #2 in their region, the East. The East is considered by many to be the most difficult region in the tournament, as it includes legitimate title contenders in North Carolina, Xavier and West Virginia, as well as two potentially under seeded teams in Kentucky and Indiana.
On Friday, in the first round, Xavier plays 15-seeded Weber State in St. Louis. Weber State’s player to watch is senior forward Joel Bolomboy who averages 17.2 points and 12.7 rebounds per game. However, Xavier should have more than enough talent to win and advance to the round of 32, where Xavier would take on the victor of the Wisconsin-Pittsburgh game.
Xavier would likely beat either of these teams in the round of 32. The Musketeers first big test comes in the Sweet 16, where they would most likely face West Virginia. Assuming Xavier faces the Mountaineers, Xavier may have some issues. West Virginia has the type of quick guard combination that has given Xavier’s 1-3-1 defense problems all season. Xavier will also need to avoid turnovers against the West Virginia’s signature press to have the best chance of winning.
Assuming Xavier makes the Elite Elite, they most likely would face North Carolina with smaller chances of facing either Kentucky or Indiana. While Carolina has a star point guard in Marcus Paige, they are not a huge threat from 3-point range, shooting just 31.9% from deep on the season. Carolina’s biggest strengths are their defense and their interior scoring. They shoot nearly 48 percent from inside the arc, while averaging a combined 11 steals and blocks per game.
While Carolina would probably be the toughest matchup for Xavier, Kentucky could be as equally scary. While the Wildcats do not have a strong interior presence such as with years past, they boast the best backcourt in the country with Tyler Ulis ,who averages 17.2 points and 7.2 assists per game, and Jamal Murray, who averages 20.1 points per game while shooting 42.1 percent from 3-point range. They would most likely be able to easily pick apart the 1-3-1, creating a serious problem for Xavier. However, Xavier should be able to dominate in the interior and on the glass, while shutting almost everyone else down, evening things out more.
Indiana, the least likely Elite Eight matchup, also has a star point guard, Yogi Ferrell, who shoots very well from 3 at 41.7 percent. Indiana as a team shoots 41.5 percent from 3, led by James Blackmon Jr. at 46.3 percent. They would give Xavier the most problems off the deep ball, but they do not play defense as well as Kentucky, North Carolina or West Virginia.
Xavier’s chances of making the Sweet 16 look very good. Their chances of advancing further are significantly lower after reaching the Sweet 16. All the potential matchups beyond the round of 32 have all the pieces to cause Xavier serious problems defensively. All in all, Xavier has a great chance to make the Sweet 16 and a good chance of making the Elite Eight, but a much slimmer chance of making the Final Four.