By: Craig James
Xavier is in the midst of their toughest four game stretch of the season. So far they are 3-0, with the biggest game of them all coming Saturday at 4:30 at the Cintas Center. The Villanova Wildcats come to town in what is the biggest game of the year in the Big East and one of the biggest games of the college basketball season. Villanova comes into the game losing 2 of their last 3. Losses to St. Johns and then Providence on Valentine’s Day.
They were missing some key players in the St. Johns loss so we can cut them slack there. The Providence loss though, the lack of the three ball cost Nova this one. They had come into Wednesday’s game making at least 4 three pointers in 83 straight games. In their loss against Providence they were 3 for 20 from 3. Hopefully there is a lid on the baskets at Cintas on Saturday. Even with Villanova’s recent losses a potential 1 seed for the big dance is still on the line Saturday (i.e. Purdue last week, stayed at the 1 line, after losing two games). Thanks to Providence knocking off Villanova, Xavier sits atop the Big East Standings with a 1.5 game lead heading into Saturday. Muskies win Saturday and the first ever Big East regular season title will be on its way to Norwood.
The Musketeers could potentially be ranked #1 in the nation if they beat Nova on Saturday. It’s no secret Villanova has dominated Xavier for a long time. In the 2015-2016 season, Xavier defeated then #1 Villanova. This was the last time the Musketeers beat Villanova (that will change on Saturday).
The Wildcats dominated the Muskies in Philly earlier this season, as they always do. Beating Xavier 89-65. However, each team has evolved since that game. In the first matchup, Kerem Kanter wasn’t a starter yet, Quentin Goodin didn’t know how to shoot, and Villanova still had Phil Booth. All of these things are different now. Kanter starts and is one of the team’s best players, Quentin Goodin learned how to shoot a basketball literally overnight, and Villanova is starting to see the effects of losing a player like Phil Booth to injury, especially in their loss to Providence.
Xavier comes into the game riding a nine game winning streak and after Trevon Bluiett’s best game of the season. Bluiett had 37 points. He was 8-11 from three and a perfect 13-13 from the foul line.
Probably his best performance he’s had at the Cintas Center in his career. I’m glad I was in attendance to witness it; Bluiett was making three’s six feet behind the line. It was incredible to watch.
The emergence of freshman star, Naji Marshall, has changed this Xavier team as well. Now a starter, Marshall has taken his game to a new level. He added a career high 20 points in the win vs Seton Hall. Xavier fans need to enjoy Marshall; a talent like him is likely not going to be on campus for four years.
Villanova comes into Saturday’s game losing two of their last three. Enter ranked with the 3rd best offense in the country and 132nd ranked defense. Xavier enters with the 10th ranked offense and 240th ranked defense. So expect some points Saturday and bet the over. Xavier gave up 65 points in the second half alone to Seton Hall. Sheesh. There are two certainties that will definitely happen Saturday. 1. The Cintas Center will be ROCKING and set the attendance record 2. Jay Wright will have a very expensive suit on. Looking dapper as hell.
The Musketeers can make a strong statement that they should be ranked #1 in the country if they win Saturday. A projected #1 seed and third overall seed is where the NCAA committee currently has the Musketeers slotted. Xavier received five first place votes the previous week.
Still a lot of basketball to be played, but the Musketeers have themselves positioned to accomplish feats that have never been done in program history. This could be a historic week for the Musketeers!
Hopefully it is all smiles at the Cintas Center on Saturday. I think it will be. Xavier hasn’t lost at home all year and that doesn’t change Saturday. Xavier 89 Villanova 84.
P.s. If Trevon Bluiett scores 19 points on Saturday he will pass David West for #2 on Xavier all-time scoring list. Wow.