Xavier deserves a lot of credit for overcoming adversity to reach the Sweet 16 Round of this year’s NCAA Tournament. The Musketeers ended the regular season with seven losses in ten games, including losing six straight after watching starter Edmond Sumner go down with a season-ending knee injury (torn ACL).
The catalyst for Xavier’s resurgence has been Trevon Bluiett, who is playing his best basketball of the 2016-17 campaign. Bluiett is averaging 22.8 points on 41.0% shooting from beyond the arc over the Musketeers’ last six games.
Xavier head coach Chris Mack is also getting more production from role players like Sean O’Mara and Malcolm Bernard. From a technical standpoint, the Musketeers are a profitable 29-10-1 ATS as neutral court underdogs, 17-7 ATS versus non-conference opponents, 36-17 ATS following a win by 20 or more points and 6-0 ATS in their last six games overall.
More importantly, Xavier is 17-4 ATS in its last 21 neutral site games, 23-5-1 ATS in its last 29 NCAA Tournament affairs and 14-2-1 ATS in its last seventeen NCAA Tournament games when getting points. The fact that the Musketeers are 4-0 ATS in their last four games versus .601 or greater opposition demonstrates their ability to play with the nation’s best, including Arizona.
Xavier’s success is predicated upon crashing the glass where it has finished first or second in offensive rebound percentage in the Big East Conference in three of the past four seasons. O’Mara, Tyrique Jones and RaShid Gaston have all helped the Musketeers pull down 36 percent of their missed shots in conference play.
The Musketeers are 7-1 ATS in their last eight NCAA Tournament games following a win, while coach Mack has never lost against-the-spread in the Sweet 16 Round (2-0-1 or 3-0 ATS depending on closing line used). The Big East Conference is 5-1 ATS as underdogs in the Sweet 16; Pac-12 Conference schools are 3-11 ATS in the Sweet 16.
No. 7 seeded or worse Sweet 16 underdogs of more than three points are 10-2 ATS over the last six years. In contrast, Arizona is just 2-6-1 ATS in its last nine NCAA Tournament games, including 1-4 ATS in the Sweet 16 Round when laying points.
Xavier sounds like a great investment, right? Well, I actually lean with the Wildcats for several reasons. First, Arizona head coach Sean Miller is 19-5 SU and 17-6-1 ATS in his career through the first three rounds of the NCAA Tournament, including 11-0 SU versus .749 or worse opposition.
Arizona was also 8-4 ATS versus fellow NCAA Tournament teams this season, while coach Miller is 7-0 SU and 6-1 ATS in this event when favored by less than ten points. Let’s also note that double-digit seeds are just 2-34 SU versus No. 1, 2 or three seeds in the Sweet 16 Round.
The Musketeers are a money-burning 0-5 SU and ATS versus .888 or greater opposition since December, 2016. No. 2 seed favorites of less than 11 points are 4-1-1 ATS in the Sweet 16 over the last three seasons.
Like Xavier, the Wildcats are excellent on the defensive glass behind Dusan Rustic and Lauri Markkanen so the Musketeers’ subpar shooting won’t be bailed out by second-chance opportunities.
Arizona is also reliable from the charity stripe, making 76.3% of its free throws this season (75.4% on the road). In contrast, the Musketeers are making 69.1% of their free throws this season, including 68.9% on the road. The Wildcats also have an edge in turnovers, ranking 36th in the nation in fewest turnovers per game (11.3).
Finally, the Wildcats arrive in the Sweet 16 with a surging offense that is averaging 86.0 points over its last five games on 53.5% shooting from the field and 43.6% from beyond the arc. Arizona is 33rd nationally in field goal percentage (47.8) and 19th in three-point field goal percentage (39.6).
Oskeim Sports’ Free Sweet 16 Round Pick: Arizona (-7.5) (-110)