Xavier is displaying plenty of resiliency this postseason.
Despite being passed over for an at-large NCAA Tournament berth, the Musketeers haven’t thrown in the towel. Xavier turned its attention to trying to win the National Invitational Tournament.
The Musketeers toppled Florida on Sunday as 3-point favorites, 72-56, earning a spot in the NIT quarterfinals while improving to 20-13 overall. The victory came under the watch of interim coach Jonas Hayes, who was given the temporary title after Xavier announced on Wednesday that it was severing ties with head coach Travis Steele.
Xavier faces Vanderbilt in a quarterfinal matchup Tuesday night after the Commodores knocked off Dayton 70-68 in overtime in a second-round matchup.
Playing with plenty of purpose
FanDuel has odds of 6/1 on Xavier winning the NIT, which is fourth-best among the eight teams remaining in the alternate NCAA postseason competition. DraftKings has the same result priced at slightly more attractive odds of +650. Texas A&M is the favorite to leave Madison Square Garden as the NIT champion at both books, at prices of +300 at FanDuel and +350 at DraftKings.
Caesars Sportsbook has the Musketeers listed as 3.5-point favorites against the Commodores (19-16), while DraftKings has them as 4-point favorites. Both sportsbooks have set the over/under for the game at 144 total points. Xaver is a -165 moneyline favorite at Caesars.
“We have some resilient kids in that locker room,” Hayes said during a press conference. “They are still fighting to win a championship. The opportunity to continue to play basketball, the opportunity to play for a championship, that is huge. There are a lot of teams that are at home right now, but we have the opportunity to keep playing.”
Jack Nunge (13.4 ppg), Paul Scruggs (11.7 ppg), Colby Jones (11.1 ppg), Nate Johnson (10.3 ppg), and Zach Freemantle (10.1 ppg) lead a balanced Musketeers lineup.
Play hard. Play smart. Play together.
See you in Cintas tomorrow night! pic.twitter.com/lsQWe2biuX
— Xavier Basketball (@XavierMBB) March 21, 2022
The Musketeers’ victory over Florida came one day after Sean Miller was named Xavier’s next permanent head coach. Miller, who was fired as the Arizona coach last April after being there for a dozen years, has history with the Musketeers. He spent eight years at Xavier, including five as head coach, and the team made the NCAA Tournament in four of those five seasons. Xavier never earned an NCAA Tournament berth during Steele’s four-year tenure, during which the team posted a 70-50 overall record.
Miller was let go after the Wildcats program was investigated by the FBI for corruption in college basketball.
Coaching change not a distraction
The Musketeers will head into the matchup with Vandy without fifth-year senior Scruggs, who suffered an injury in the game against Florida. Hayes credited guard Dwon Odom for stepping in for Scruggs against the Gators. He scored 10 points in the second-round win.
Hayes enters his second contest as interim coach downplaying his role in trying to guide the Musketeers to an NIT championship in the middle of a coaching transition that will not end with him being named head coach.
“I have a responsibility to these kids, and I have a responsibility to this university,” Hayes said. “It’s really not about me. It’s a great opportunity that I’m glad I’m put in, but it’s about these kids and this university and finishing off strong.”
Xavier leads the all-time series with Vanderbilt, winning five of six meetings.
The Musketeers take on a Commodores team led by Scotty Pippen Jr. — son of the Hall of Fame former Chicago Bulls forward. Against the Flyers, Pippen pumped in a team-high 32 points while dishing out seven assists without committing a turnover. Pippen averages a team-best 20.2 points while Jordan Wright ranks as the only other double-figure scorer at 12.3 points per game.