By: Kyle Tooley ~Sports Editor~
After falling a game short of the championship in the Big East Tournament in New York City last week, the men’s basketball team is gearing up for its 15th NCAA Tournament appearance since 2000. The Musketeers will travel to Orlando for tomorrow’s game against the Maryland Terrapins of the Big Ten.
Xavier opened the Big East Tournament with a win against the last-place DePaul Blue Demons, whom Xavier had already topped twice during the regular season. Though staring at a one-point deficit heading into halftime, junior Trevon Bluiett was able to turn it on in the second half, scoring every one of his 17 points following the intermission. The Musketeers bested DePaul by a score of 75-64.
In the second round on Thursday, Xavier matched up with a second-seeded Butler Bulldogs team that had Xavier’s number during the regular season. With 17 seconds remaining in the contest, Bluiett hit one of his signature elbow-jumpers to give Xavier a two-point advantage. After Butler missed a shot on the ensuing possession, junior JP Macura split a pair of free throws to extend the lead to three. Butler came down with the rebound of the missed free throw, but freshman Tyrique Jones stole the ball and hammered it home, sealing the victory. Led by the heroics of Bluiett and his gamehigh 23 points as well as graduate student Malcolm Bernard’s first double-double of the season, the seventh-seeded Musketeers were able to complete the upset of Butler by a score of 62-57.
In the semifinals of the Big East Tournament, the Musketeers faced the sixth-seeded Creighton Bluejays, with whom they split the regular-season matchups. The conclusion of the contest made highlight shows all across the country but did not end up in Xavier’s favor.
Channeling his performance from the night before, Bluiett hit a step-back three with 16 seconds left, tying the game at 72. Creighton inbounded the ball and immediately ran down the court, moving the ball around until Marcus Foster found the rock.
Foster elevated and delivered the final blow the to the Musketeers Big East Tournament run, draining a three with eight seconds remaining. A deep three from Macura rimmed out at the buzzer, ending the contest in an exciting, yet disappointing, fashion for the Musketeers.
The win over Butler seemingly secured Xavier’s place in the NCAA Tournament, as the committee deemed it an 11-seed in the 68-team tournament. Its opponent for the first round, the Maryland Terrapins, earned a six-seed after 24-8 regular season. Though the lower seed and with a worse record at 21-13, 49 percent of the public is picking Xavier to upset Maryland in the first round.
Maryland is led by junior guard Melo Trimble, who tops the team in scoring and assists. Shutting down Trimble and limiting the Terrapins’ scoring from deep seem to be the keys to stopping Maryland. In addition, Xavier needs to take advantage of Maryland’s weak presence on the defensive glass.
If the Musketeers get past Maryland in the first round, they would face either the Florida State Seminoles, a three-seed, or the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, a 14-seed, in the Round of 32. Both teams have notable weaknesses that can be exploited, and many of the top minds in college basketball, including ESPN’s Jay Bilas, believe that Xavier will meet the Arizona Wildcats in the Sweet 16, which would mark Xavier’s seventh appearance in the Sweet 16 since 2004.
Xavier’s matchup with Maryland will get underway Thursday from Orlando at 6:50 p.m. at the Amway Center. The game will be broadcasted nationally on TNT.