Welcome to the New Year college basketball fans! With the turning of the calendar, we also close the page on non-conference play as most leagues have begun league play or will do so in the next couple of days. This is where the season really starts for many teams and the next couple of weeks will go a long way into deciding which teams we will see dancing come March. For today’s pick, we will take a look at the game between the Seton Hall Pirates and the Xavier Musketeers in a Big East Battle.
The Xavier Musketeers host the Seton Hall Pirates tonight in a game between two surprising teams. The Musketeers are surprising people in a bad way so far this season as through non-conference play, they are just 9-5. This comes just one year after they were a one seed in the NCAA tournament. The Musketeers have certainly underwhelmed to start the season, but the Big East is as wide open as I can ever remember it, so don’t be shocked to see Xavier compete for the Big East regular-season title.
The Pirates are surprising people in a good way as they have jumped out to a hot 10-3 start, with wins over Miami, Kentucky, Maryland, and St. John’s. If they are able to find a way to knock off Xavier on the road tonight, they would likely find themselves ranked in the top twenty-five nationally as they currently find themselves in the also receiving votes category, lurking just outside the rankings. The Musketeers are -4-point home favorites. The game total over-under is set at 143.5-points. Tipoff is scheduled for 3:30 PM PST from the Cintas Center in Cincinnati.
If this game were scheduled any time in the last, oh say a decade or so, it would be a mismatch. Seton Hall had fallen on hard times in the early 2000s but under head coach Kevin Willard have made the NCAA tournament the last three seasons. This year they looked poised to break through for a deep run in the tournament, as they are playing very good basketball.
The Pirates three losses on the season are all to teams that will likely end up playing in March. Losses to Louisville, Nebraska, and Saint Louis are all somewhat forgivable, with the Saint Louis loss being the only one looking a bit suspect. And even then, the Billikens are a solid 9-4. And when you look at the Pirates quality wins, you have to like what this team is doing right now.
In their last game, the Pirates handed St. John’s their first loss on the season as the Red Storm had jumped out to a 13-0 start. The game before that? They went into College Park and beat a very solid Maryland Terrapins team, in a true road game, that had been ranked in the top twenty-five. The Pirates also picked up a nice on-conference win again Miami on a neutral floor. These wins were all good resume building ones, but no win this year was bigger than the one they got when they shocked a top ten ranked Kentucky Wildcat team on December 8th.
That win is going to look better and better as Coach Cal has his Wildcats playing better every week. When tournament selection time comes, that win will boost the Pirates resume a ton. The Big East is down this year as right now they have only one team ranked in the top twenty-five, and that is a Marquette team that just lost by twenty points last night. So, when you are looking at who can win this league, the Pirates have to be in the conversation, period.
We all knew that Xavier would be down this year. They had a magical season last year that saw them win the Big East regular-season title, and they were awarded with a one seed in the NCAA tournament. But, they lost most of their best players, including super star Trevon Blueitt, and they lost their head coach, Chris Mack. It was rebuilding time in Cincinnati for sure.
But most expected the Musketeers to still compete and be a tournament level team despite all their losses. Right now, if the tournament field were announced today, the Musketeers would find themselves on the outside looking in. Xavier has used a very balanced attack this year, six players are averaging nine points or more a game. But they have really struggled against good teams.
You would be hard pressed to call any of the Musketeers nine wins, “good” ones. At this point, their best win of the season is against either Depaul or Ohio. And neither of those teams are currently projected to make the tournament. If the Musketeers want to have any shot at an at-large bid this season, they need to find a way to win at home in league games like this one tonight.
On a neutral floor, I see Seton Hall as the better team. And by a decent margin. They have shown me that they can beat good teams and that they can win on the road. So, a bet on Seton Hall is a bet on the better overall team. But this isn’t a neutral floor, this game is at Xavier, a place that has been very tough for opposing teams to win. Their only home loss this season was to a very good Wisconsin team, very early on.
Home much is a home floor worth? We will find out tonight in this one. This game opened up at Xavier -4.5 and has been sliding ever since. It stands at -4-points now, and I even see some -3.5’s floating around. So, if you like a play on Seton Hall, like many of the early betting sharps do, make your play now before the line moves even further. I wouldn’t at all be shocked if Seton Hall wins this game outright. But I won’t pass up on the +4-points just in case this game closes out closer than I think it will. Give me the Seton Hall Pirates and the points tonight from Cincinnati!