With only 16 teams left in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, the true Cinderellas have been sent packing. Gone are the Nevada’s and Princeton’s that we discussed before the tourney.
The closest thing we have to a Cinderella now is the Xavier Musketeers, an 11-seed that made it here with a 76-65 victory over Maryland, then a 91-66 blowout against 3-seed Florida State.
Their next opponent is 2-seed Arizona, a team that many think has the potential to win it all. We also believe they have the talent since we ranked the Wildcats #7 among the remaining Sweet 16 teams. Meanwhile, we only have Xavier sitting at #14.
Can the Musketeers surprise the basketball world and move on the Elite Eight? Find out as we cover the Arizona vs. Xavier matchup.
March 23 @ 10:09pm EST
Betting Odds at GTBets: Arizona -7.5, Xavier +7.5
Only three times in NCAA Tournament history has a No. 11 seed advanced to the Final Four – LSU in 1986; George Mason in 2006; and Virginia Commonwealth in 2011. Based on the trend over the last decade-plus, we’re do for another double-digit team in the Final Four.
But the odds suggest that it won’t be Xavier, given that FiveThirtyEight gives them just an 8% chance of making it to Phoenix. We at GTBets have them with the worst odds of winning the championship at +5000 right now. Nevertheless, this is a solid team that’s coming off a 25-point win over a No. 3 seed, so they have to be taken seriously.
The big reason why the Musketeers blitzed Florida State is because they hit 11-of-17 shots (64.7%) from three-point range. They also made 71% of their shots around the basket and outscored FSU 36-26 in the paint.
At first glance, it feels like Xavier just got hot and the Seminoles couldn’t keep up. But the latter ranked in the nation’s top 30% for field goal percentage allowed at the rim (52.3%), and 21st overall for block rate. That said, we expect the good inside play to continue against Arizona, which allowed 64.1% shooting around the rim to 15-seed North Dakota State and 7-seed St. Mary’s.
Another thing that Xavier does well is rebound, given that they got offensive rebounds at a 34.9% rate, ranking 29th in the nation. This could cause trouble for the more-talented Wildcats if they surrender extra possessions to a lower seed.
If the Musketeers can execute their game plan and get by Arizona, they have a realistic path to the national championship game as well.
The only No. 1 seeds left – Kansas and North Carolina – are on the other side of the bracket. The winner of Xavier/Arizona plays the winner of Gonzaga/West Virginia to see who advances out of the West Region. While neither of these are easy matchups, they also aren’t the Tar Heels or Jayhawks.
If the Musketeers become just the fourth team in history to make the Final Four, they’d take on the East winner, which will be between the Florida/Wisconsin and Baylor/South Carolina winners. No. 1 seed Villanova and No. 1 seed Duke have both been eliminated from the East Region.
Assuming Xavier can complete an unlikely run to the finals, they could face UNC, Kansas, No. 2 Kentucky, or No. 3 UCLA.
North Carolina would be a nightmare matchup for the Musketeers due to their size, offensive rebounding percentage (42.2%), and 121.6 points per 100 possessions. According to Jeff Sagarin’s Predictor system, UNC would be an 8.6 favorite over Xavier – probably even more on the betting lines – while Kansas and Kentucky would be 7.1 and 7.5-point favorites respectively.
But obviously we’re getting ahead of ourselves here because Xavier has a very tough test in front of them right now. However, if they can muster yet another upset, then the Musketeers have a shot at going deeper in the tournament than anybody would’ve fathomed before March Madness began.