In one of the most highly-anticipated matchups of the Sweet 16, the second-seeded Texas Longhorns take on the third-seeded Xavier Musketeers in what promises to be a close contest. This game marks the first big test for both teams, as they have yet to face a team better than a 10-seed in the tournament. Nevertheless, both Texas and Xavier are no strangers to playing tough opponents, with Texas ranking seventh in strength of schedule and Xavier ranking 25th. With a chance to advance to the regional final on the line, the game is sure to be intense and highly competitive.
Texas Longhorns (28-8)
The Longhorns are having their best season since 2010-2011 and are looking to continue their success by advancing to the Elite Eight. They have been one of the most consistent teams this season, having been ranked in the top 10 every week since week two, which earned them a two-seed in the tournament. In their first-round matchup against Colgate, they cruised to an 81-61 victory behind Sir’Jabari Rice’s 23 points. In their second-round game against Penn State, they faced a tough challenge but emerged victorious with a score of 71-66, thanks in large part to Dylan Disu’s 28 points and 10 rebounds.
Texas, who posses +1000 odds to win it all, arguably has the best resume of any team this year, with 18 quad one and two wins. They have defeated formidable opponents such as Gonzaga, Baylor, Kansas (2x), and Creighton, among others. They are strong on both sides of the floor, with top-40 offensive and defensive ratings. They have four players averaging double digits but as shown in their conference tournament and in their two March Madness games anyone who receives minutes is capable of contributing at any point which makes them dangerous to any team.
Xavier has impressed this season, having not been ranked in the preseason top 25, or until December 26. Since then, the Musketeers haven’t looked back, not leaving the top 20, and finishing 13th. They survived Kennesaw State 72-67, mounting a second half comeback to avoid a first round exit behind Jerome Hunter’s 24 points. In their second round matchup against Pittsburgh, it was the opposite. Xavier controlled the game from the tip and fought off a late fight from Pitt to secure an 11 point win. The Musketeers only used seven players, but six scored in double figures with the team having an impressive 20 assists.
Xavier’s success is due in part to their ability to spread the ball around, as evidenced by their nation-leading 19.3 assists per game. They also score efficiently, with the sixth highest field goal percentage (49.3%) and the fifth highest three-point percentage (38.9%) in the nation. In order to win on Friday, Xavier will need to score in bunches and push the pace to run the Longhorns out of the gym.
In a matchup of teams with different strengths that are both excelling at the moment, this should go down to the wire and be a tight game throughout. However, Texas is more battle ready and might just be the stronger team at the moment. We expect Texas to win the game, but Xavier to cover the +4 point spread.