Xavier ready to dance in tourney

The Musketeers enter March Madness as the No. 1 seed in the West region

Newswire photo by Sydney Sanders | Senior guards Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura are the Musketeers’ top scorers and hope to lead Xavier deep in the NCAA Tournament.

Xavier lost in the Big East Tournament semifinals last Friday in overtime against the Providence Friars after defeating the St. John’s Red Storm in the tournament quarterfinals.

The team now looks ahead to the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed, a first in program history. The Musketeers’ first game is set for Friday at 7:20 p.m. against the winner of Texas Southern and North Carolina Central.

Xavier only led 33-29 at halftime before winning 88-60 against St. John’s. Senior guard Trevon Bluiett had a big game, posting team highs in scoring with 27 points and rebounding with seven. Junior Kaiser Gates had a quality game as well, scoring 16 points on 6-7 shooting.

Senior J.P. Macura posted a solid all-around stat line, scoring nine points, grabbing six rebounds, dishing out five assists and grabbing four steals on the defensive end. However, head coach Chris Mack didn’t feel Macura’s full impact was shown in the box score.

“I think so many of the things that he does very well don’t necessarily resonate or show in the box scores. Certainly, he might get an assist, but again, is the guy shooting in his shooting pocket or is he catching it at his toes?” Mack said after the game.

“He also makes those plays where he just seems to maybe deflect the pass that one of his teammates gets credit for the steal, but he was the guy that was sort of the instigator in that. He does a lot of things whether it’s set screens, plays multiple positions, as do a lot of our guys. He’s got win-first/J.P. second, and he’s not alone. We’ve got a lot of players like that in the locker room, all of them.”

At the beginning of the Providence game , it looked like Xavier would cruise to another easy win. The Musketeers built a 43-29 halftime lead, and the defense looked as strong as it had all season. Even after Xavier extended its lead to 17 in the beginning of the second half, the game looked to be over.

However, the Friars went on a furious rally during the next 15 minutes that erased Xavier’s lead entirely. The game was tied 68-68 at the end of regulation. Xavier failed to make a field goal in overtime and only managed four free throws as Providence won the game 75-72.

Graduate student Kerem Kanter led the team in scoring with 18 points. He sinked a would-be game-tying three-pointer at the end of overtime if the shot had gotten off in time. Freshman Paul Scruggs had a career high 15 points on what was his 20th birthday, going 4-5 from the field.

After falling to Providence, it was announced Sunday that Xavier would be a No. 1 in this year’s NCAA Tournament. The Musketeers are the top seed in the West region of the bracket and will face the winner of the North Carolina Central/Texas Southern play-in game on Wednesday.

Texas Southern’s non-conference schedule was rated as the toughest in college basketball. It played teams such as Kansas, Gonzaga and Oregon all on the road. It lost all of those games as well. North Carolina Central has gotten hot at the right time, winning its conference tournament after finishing sixth in the regular season standings.

Assuming Xavier avoids making the wrong kind of history in being the first one-seed to lose to a 16, they will take on the winner of Missouri/Florida State in the round of 32. Missouri could be a difficult matchup for Xavier, as potential top-five pick Michael Porter Jr. just returned from injury for the Tigers.

The Sweet 16 could be really tricky for Xavier, as Gonzaga, who won last year’s tournament matchup against the Musketeers, could be the opponent.

Adding to the fact the game would be played in Los Angeles, Gonzaga is playing its best basketball of the season and could pose the biggest challenge on the road to the Final Four.

If Xavier is able to survive that, it would likely face North Carolina or Michigan in the Elite Eight. Both are teams known to have perennial tournament success.

By: Donnie Menke ~Staff Writer~