For the first time in school history, the Xavier Musketeers are the proud owners of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The regular-season Big East champs have been given top honors in the West Region and face some stiff competition in that part of the bracket in the likes of North Carolina, Michigan, Gonzaga and Ohio State plus some sleeper schools like Missouri, Houston and two-time Musketeer killers Providence.
Despite being one of the four March Madness top seeds, Xavier is +1400 in futures markets after Sportsbook at +2200 and is tabbed as a co-favorite with Michigan and North Carolina at that price among teams in the West Region. So if you’re thinking of backing them, they comfortably own the best value of the four top seeds.
Xavier has never made it to a Final Four, let alone won a title, but the Musketeers have reached the Elite Eight three times in school history (2004, 2008, 2017). There appears to be a lot of parity in the West so Xavier will have a tough task ahead and the odds reflect that. Still, this is a damn good team that scores with the best of ’em, has senior leadership and tournament experience and has been a fantastic team to support at the betting window.
Here is a closer look at a few reasons why Xavier could be the team cutting down the nets in San Antonio and why they are worth a bet in futures markets.
Experience is the Best Teacher
This roster is filled with experience as the bulk of the squad (including three starters) was on the Elite Eight team that lost to Gonzaga as 8.5-point dogs one year ago. Seniors like J.P. Macura, Sean O’Mara and graduate transfer Kerem Kanter all play important roles in Xavier’s success, but this group is paced by Trevon Bluiett.
The all-American senior averages 19.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game and is shooting 42 percent from three and 86 percent from the free-throw line in his best season at the school and more often than not, as he goes, so goes Xavier. In the Musketeers’ five losses, Bluiett averaged 14.6 points and shot just 33.9 percent so while they do have good balance up and down the roster, his performances can have a profound impact on this team.
The Best Defense is a Good Offense
Now, while I may not be ole’ Jimmy Naismith, I can tell you with a certain level of assuredness that you have to score to win basketball games. Xavier does that as well as anyone in the country and it could be enough for the Musketeers to be crowned champs, especially with the efficiency in which they keep scorekeepers busy.
The Musketeers sit tied for 10th in the nation at 84.3 points per game and shoot the ball at a clip of 49 percent from the field and 37 percent from downtown. Furthermore, this is the sixth-best shooting team from the charity stripe as well (79 percent) so all those quality seniors won’t be fazed when put on the line down the stretch in games.
Defense? Now, defense is another story and Xavier falls to the opposite end of the spectrum when analyzing defensive metrics. Opponents have averaged 74.5 points per game against Xavier and it’s an aspect that has let the team down in losses this season and something we’ll need to be mindful of come tourney time.
In the wake of Selection Sunday, the number of pundits and fans coming down hard on Xavier getting a No. 1 seed has been fast and furious. Much like the great Rodney Dangerfield, Xavier is getting no respect.
Sure, Ken Pomeroy’s metrics have Xavier more resembling a No. 4 seed. Sure, everyone seems to be picking the North Carolina Tar Heels as the team that will get out of this intriguing region. But when you’re led by seniors who have played the bulk of their hoops under the radar, going so far as the Elite Eight as an 11 seed one year ago, do you think they care about KenPom or what hoops writers coast to coast are predicting? No.
This is great bulletin board fodder for a team like Xavier and could very well be the motivational source for a deep run.
Bonus: A Bettor’s Best Friend
Not interested in backing Xavier in futures markets? Well, try taking them on a game-by-game basis.
NOBODY is a better bet in the NCAA Tournament since 1999. In 36 tournament games over that stretch, the Musketeers have posted an incredible ATS record of 26-8-2 (21-15 SU). They’ve also been one of college basketball’s best wagers this season, going 21-12 ATS in their 33 games to date.
Xavier has gone dancing every year this decade except 2013 and has posted an impressive record of 13-4 ATS (10-7 SU) in that span. The Musketeers were cruising along at a 3-0 ATS clip before getting pounded by Butler 83-59 in the Elite Eight last season.
Cashing in at that sort of rate is no easy feat and Xavier has been doing it with ease come tourney time. So if you don’t like the +1400 odds or feel that there is too much parity in the West, back the Musketeers one day at a time. History suggests you won’t be disappointed.