This Game has had relevance in previous seasons, but it’s hard to argue that any have been more important than this one. As it stands, Xavier is in prime position to take the Big East regular season title from Villanova, something that hasn’t happened since the 2012-13 season when the teams were completely different. But the Musketeers can’t get ahead of themselves. They’ve been in this position numerous times and seem to falter in every one.
The reason to go against Xavier is simply because it’s been one of the luckiest teams in the country. The numbers at KenPom back that up, but the Musketeers won back-to-back overtime Games a week ago and followed that up by getting two free throws on a debatable call at Creighton last weekend. Not to say that Xavier’s success is entirely from luck as this is still a great team that clearly knows how to win late-Game situations.
Villanova hasn’t been as easy to trust on the road and that will probably be a factor in this Game. The Wildcats already lost at Butler and most recently Providence, and struggled to close against teams like St. John’s and Marquette. Eric Paschall returned from a concussion on Wednesday and played 28 minutes so that’s a good sign. Still, Phil Booth is out and it’s not easy for a team to continue winning without one or more of its starters. When these teams met a month ago, Booth played 33 minutes and scored 21 points. He’s an extremely important player for this team even if ‘Nova blew out Xavier 89-65 in that first meeting.
With Booth out, Donte DiVincenzo has been playing a ton with freshmen Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels (neither played in first meeting) also splitting time. Either way, Xavier’s biggest problem will be trying to stop the most efficient offense in the country. The Wildcats are as good as they come offensively and that’s in all facets. Unfortunately for the Musketeers, they don’t have great field-goal defense with their best trait being defensive rebounding.
This time around, it’ll be important for Xavier to keep up on the scoreboard against a Villanova team that has had issues defensively this season. The Musketeers will attack the glass hard and draw fouls through Kerem Kanter and Trevon Bluiett. When these teams first met, no one could get anything going for Xavier as Bluiett had just 11 points, point guard Quentin Goodin didn’t make a shot and second-leading scorer J.P. MACura was 2-of-9 from the field. It’s hard to see that happening against considering the Musketeers have scored at least 86 points in their last five home Games and Bluiett dropped the hammer with 37 points in Wednesday’s win.
Villanova matches up well, which is why it dominated that first meeting. Omari Spellman wasn’t really asked to do much in that first Game, but that may change on the road against Kanter. Xavier’s biggest test will be stopping Jalen Brunson, DiVincenzo and Mikal Bridges. Those guys have taken over in recent Games and it’s not like Xavier’s defense is good. Goodin is there for his defensive prowess against Brunson, but he couldn’t do much in that first Game. Xavier doesn’t force turnovers and gives up a bad two-point field goal percentage, both of which aren’t good factors when facing the Wildcats.
This Game will be close simply because that’s how things go. With this likely deciding the regular season Big East winner, expect tensions to be high. The Musketeers have been extremely lucky and counting on that to continue will be tough, although now is a great time to strike against this Villanova team.
Our Pick – Xavier +1.5