Unlike a lot of favored teams in the NCAA Tournament, Xavier did its part to reach the Sweet 16 with a pair of opening victories, as did Texas in the Midwest Region.
That sets up a high-octane offense vs. stingy defense showdown between the No. 3 Musketeers (27-9) and No. 2 Longhorns (28-8) Friday night in Kansas City, with Xavier an underdog to make its first Elite Eight appearance since 2017.
Xavier is back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2017.
Who was the Musketeers' opponent that year?
Arizona, who was coached by Sean Miller.
Nope. Just College Basketball. https://t.co/F5peax7hZd
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 19, 2023
Though the Musketeers are making the first March Madness of legal sports betting in Ohio an exciting one for their supporters, the point spread was 4 to 4.5 points against them Monday morning at the major online sportsbooks. A Xavier backer was best off using BetMGM or Caesars Sportsbook to get the 4.5 points with no extra vig (FanDuel was charging -118).
A moneyline bet on the Big East school was best placed using the +167 from bet365 or +163 from betJACK. The over/under was commonly 147.5, making it pegged as the highest-scoring contest among the eight NCAA Tournament games to be played Thursday and Friday.
Win over Pitt looked much stronger
The Musketeers’ Midwest Region saw none of the bracket-busting mayhem that struck other regions in the first and second rounds. The winner of the 9:45 p.m. game between Xavier and Texas will face the winner of the game earlier Friday between top seed Houston and No. 5 Miami, in which the Cougars are favored by 6.5 to 7 points.
To upset Texas, Xavier will have to play a lot more like it did Sunday against Pitt than Friday against Kennesaw State.
The Musketeers were in peak shooting form in the 84-73 win over the Panthers, amassing 48 first-half points for a 14-point lead after Adam Kunkel drained five 3-pointers. Six players ended up scoring in double figures — led by Jack Nunge’s 18 — as Xavier maintained a double-digit lead most of the second half.
That came after a first-round scare, trailing in the first half against Kennesaw State before prevailing 72-67 as a 12-point favorite.
Texas, which won the Big 12 tournament, beat Penn State 71-66 Saturday and Colgate 81-61 Thursday to make its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2008. Forward Dylan Disu led the Longhorns with 28 points against Penn State after scoring 17 vs. Colgate.
The Longhorns have allowed an average of just 58 points in their five postseason games, making for an interesting matchup against one of the nation’s best-shooting teams in Xavier (fourth in 3-point percentage).
Odds of 35/1 to go all the way
In addition to posting lines all week for Friday night’s game, the sportsbooks have futures odds for the entire rest of the tournament that rank Xavier 10th or 11th most likely among the 16 remaining teams to win the championship. (Alabama is generally the favorite, with Houston just behind.)
Some sites have the Musketeers’ odds at 30/1, but a true believer can do better at 35/1 at DraftKings, Hard Rock Digital, or Caesars.
A more likely scenario is to at least emerge as the winner of the Midwest Region, regardless of going further. To make the Final Four, Xavier is the third choice in the region and can be bet at +700 at DraftKings and Hard Rock.
Houston is a strong favorite to win the region, with those two sites both making it -115. Odds on Texas range from +175 at PointsBet to +250 at betJACK.
Photo: Dylan Buell/Getty Images