What To Expect As Xavier Heads to Philly For Battle Against Nova
By: Craig James
Xavier heads to Philadelphia to face #1 Villanova on Wednesday night. The Musketeers come into Wednesday night’s game against the Wildcats after having their 10 game winning streak snapped by Providence on Saturday. A game where the Musketeers turned the ball over 15 times and Trevon Bluiett was held scoreless in the second half. If Xavier would have won Saturday we would most likely watching a #1 v #2 matchup, but the Musketeers laid an egg Saturday afternoon.
We all know Villanova has dominated the “new” Big East since its creation. The new league formed in 2013/2014 and Villanova has been regular season champions every season, tournament champions twice, and won a national title in the 2015-16 season. Straight up domination from the Jay Wright led Wildcats. The Xavier-Villanova series has also been one-sided, as Nova is 24-5 all-time verse the Musketeers.
Xavier’s last win came when they defeated #1 ranked Villanova in 2015-2016 season at Cintas Center. Xavier was ranked #5 in that game.
Something that will be a little bit different in this year’s matchup than years prior in Philadelphia will be the arena. The previous four meetings at Villanova have been played at The Pavilion, Nova’s historic, but very small arena on campus. Seats only 6,500. Wednesday night’s game takes place at the Wells Fargo Center, home of the 76ers. Maybe a change of scenery will help the Musketeers get their first road win against Nova since joining the Big East.
This game will have the three top players in the Big East on the floor. Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, and Trevon Bluiett. All three are also in the running for National Player of the Year honors. To this point in the season I would say Jalen Brunson has been the best player in the league. He leads the #2 offense in the country and is efficient when he is on the court. He creates everything for himself and his teammates and has improved greatly each season.
Mikal Bridges, is the 8th best player in the country currently according to KenPom standings, but 2nd best player on his own team. That’s how good Villanova is this year ladies and gentleman. Bridges averages 17.8 ppg. He is Nova’s best defender as well and I imagine will be guarding Trevon Bluiett. Bluiett needs to play a heck of a lot better than he did against Providence; a tall task going against a player like Bridges. Bridges is Villanova’s top NBA prospect and it’s easy to see with moves like this.
Villanova has five guys that average double digit points, and another player in, Eric Paschall, averaging 9.9. Villanova is the best two point shooting team in the country at this point in the season. Coming into the top 10 matchup Wednesday night Villanova has scored 100+ points in 2 out of their last three games (bet the over tonight folks). The Musketeers will have to have their 1-3-1 defense on come Wednesday night.
So far this season Villanova has been the best team in the country. They only have one loss and it came at Butler; when Butler was hotter from behind the arc than Blanca Blanco at the Golden Globes (that’s hot folks, look her up). This is Xavier’s hardest regular season game year in and year out. In the four years they have played at Villanova since the Big East was formed Xavier has lost by an average of 23 points. Sheesh. Vegas currently has the line at Nova -9.5 and KenPom rankings give Xavier a 17% chance of winning. So how on God’s green earth do they win this game tonight?
They win down low. Villanova has a tough time guarding in the paint and compared to years prior is not very good defensively right now. Xavier’s three headed monster down low in Sean O’Mara, Tyrique Jones, and Kerem Kanter will have to play their best games of the season if they want to leave Philly with a win. Kanter is coming off the best game of his college career. He had a double-double with 24 and 12, 19 of those points coming in the second half.
Villanova is really good at blocking shots. So how do you combat that if you’re Xavier? You have a guy like Sean O’Mara. O’Mara isn’t the most athletic big man in the world and is so patient down low with the ball he literally lulls the defense to sleep. He’s good with pump fakes on the block and can hopefully get Nova’s defenders in the air and get fouled. O’Mara is getting fouled on 52% of his field goal attempts. For all you bad at math that is more than half the time he tries to shoot. This is a good thing because he’s an 84% free throw shooter.
Last, but certainly not least is Tyrique Jones. He’s the muscle down low and Muskies will need him flexing in this top 10 matchup. He’s been improving all year and is second in the Big East in field goal percentage. Jones is Xavier’s leading rebounder at 5.9 per game. Nova runs a four guard set most of the time so look for Jones to have his way down low on the glass if the Muskies are going to pull the upset.
The one on one matchup to watch will be Mikal Bridges guarding Trevon Bluiett. Bridges is the best defender Bluiett has gone up against so far this year. He’s coming into this game after his worst performance of the year, which resulted in a Musketeers loss.
The Pup List faithful want a score prediction… I’m not going to give one, but let’s just say I did not put money on the Musketeers tonight.
P.S. Chris Mack’s next win will tie Pete Gillen for most wins all-time as Xavier head coach. No better place to tie the record than at Villanova.