In a head-spinning basketball season where no lead, ranking or Bracketology seems safe, Xavier may have made the most dizzying move of all.
The Musketeers’ tenure at the top won't last 24 hours.
At 2:40 on Sunday afternoon, Seton Hall put the finishing touches on a 90-81 thumping of the Musketeers, virtually guaranteeing a slide down the seed line for Xavier and more confusion in an already befuddling season. (Anyone interested in filling out my top 25 bracket, please shoot me an email.)
It will also, no doubt, bring out the folks questioning the merit of the Big East. Most everywhere else, teams beat up one another, and it adds to an appreciation of just how hard the league is. It’s a narrative the old Big East started and owned for a lot of years.
But the nouveau Big East doesn’t get the same benefit of the doubt. When Xavier beats Villanova but Seton Hall beats Xavier, that doesn’t equate to transitive-theory success as it might in the Big 12 or Big Ten. It’s viewed as a referendum on mediocrity.
Is it fair? Not really. The league has the fourth-best RPI by virtually every ranking system, is 14-14 against top-50 BPI nonconference opponents (the best of any major conference team), and has the second-best record (31-19) against other major conference teams (the Big 12 has the best).
Frankly, most impressions of the Big East are based on past perceptions of its member teams -- largely Villanova’s NCAA tournament struggles coupled with a five-year absence of Big East teams in the Final Four -- which, of course, has nothing to do with this season.
The reality is, Xavier is still a very good team that played a really lousy game against an extremely desperate opponent. Seton Hall has not been to the NCAA tournament since 2006 and has been living on the bubble for weeks. This was its chance, getting a top-five team at home, right after the Musketeers enjoyed that emotional win against then-top-ranked Villanova.
Can you say trap game?
It was the perfect Pirates storm, and they responded like a hurricane. Seton Hall jumped out to a 9-0 opening and never looked back, stretching its lead to 19 by halftime, and withstanding a few late Xavier runs in the second half for their first win against a top-five team since 2004.
So in a twisted way, Xavier helped the Big East’s cause by virtually guaranteeing Seton Hall its first enjoyable Selection Sunday in a decade.
Even if the Musketeers redefined head-spinning in a head-spinning season.