Just like the Energizer Bunny, the Xavier men’s basketball team is still going.
The Musketeers are in the group of four making up the National Invitational Tournament semifinals, which are set for Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. There, Xavier will face St. Bonaventure, while Washington State will meet Texas A&M.
Of the teams playing in the NIT Final Four, the Musketeers are recognized as the least likely to win the NIT title. FanDuel has odds of +450 on Xavier finishing as the NIT winner. The sportsbook has the shortest odds on Texas A&M to claim the championship at +180, followed by Washington State and St. Bonaventure at +250.
The meeting between the Musketeers and the Bonnies is a matchup between former Atlantic 10 Conference rivals, before Xavier joined the Big East in 2013. Xavier won the NIT championship in 1958, knocking off St. Bonaventure in a semifinal and defeating nearby rival Dayton in the title game.
Musketeers looking to repeat history
Xavier enters the game with a 19-7 all-time record in NIT contests, and last played in an NIT semifinal in 1999.
The Musketeers have displayed extreme focus during their postseason run. In spite of the university parting ways with head coach Travis Steele (70-50) after four seasons and announcing next season’s return of Sean Miller as head coach, the Musketeers have been able to knock off Cleveland State, 72-68; Florida, 72-56; and Vanderbilt, 75-73, to advance to MSG under interim coach Jonas Hayes.
“I think we’re in a very good space,” Hayes said during a recent press conference. “I think our guys are committed to winning the championship.”
Five Musketeers hit double figures as Xavier takes down Vanderbilt to advance to the NIT Semifinals!
— Xavier Gameday (@XavierGameday) March 23, 2022
Jack Nunge (13.3 ppg), Paul Scruggs (11.7 ppg), Colby Jones (11.2 ppg), Nate Johnson (10.4 ppg), and Zach Freemantle (10.3 ppg) provide Xavier with plenty of balance on the offensive end of the floor.
Like Xavier, St. Bonaventure has a lineup that includes five players averaging in double figures scoring. Jalen Adaway (15.7 ppg), Jaren Holmes (13.4 ppg), Kyle Lofton (12.7 ppg), Dominick Welch (11.9 ppg), and Osun Osunniyi (11.3 ppg) have been steady all season for the Bonnies under head coach Mark Schmidt, a former Xavier assistant coach.
“St. Bonaventure plays about six or seven guys, and they play downhill on the bounce,” Hayes said of the Bonnies, who average 70 points per game. “We have to do an unbelievable job of guarding the ball and keeping the ball out of the paint. Obviously, we have to be disciplined at the end of those drives.”