Things have changed quickly for Villanova since winning its first 10 Games in the Big East. Not only did the Wildcats lose their first meeting with Marquette, but they’ve now lost their last three road Games, giving away a big lead at St. John’s and never looking right at Georgetown on Wednesday. Xavier isn’t an easy matchup by any means, winning its last three, while this is Villanova’s Fourth trip in five Games.
Villanova didn’t blow out Xavier in the first meeting, but it was never in doubt in an 85-75 win. Helped by a ridiculous shooting day, ‘Nova managed 1.31 points per possession. The bad news is that probably won’t happen again since Phil Booth and Collin Gillespie combined to make 11 threes as the team went 15-for-34 from deep. Xavier may not have a good defense, but it should put in a better showing in this Game and it can’t be overlooked that it also had success against Villanova’s defense, managing 1.15 points per possession with only six made threes.
The path for the Musketeers winning is pretty much the same strategy of feeding Tyrique Jones the ball down low after he had 21 points and 12 boards. Jones has been the key in recent wins, notching a double-double in the last two Games and he’s made Xavier relevant again. Naji Marshall has also been part of the winning with at least 22 points in three of the last Four Games, as he’s doing a little bit of everything and that was the case against Villanova when he had 15 points, six boards and seven assists. To push them over the top, Paul SCruggs has to find his offensive Game again at some point with just 10 points combined in the last three even though he’s second on the team with 12 points per contest.
This Game was high scoring in the last matchup, but don’t expect that to happen again as both prefer to play a little slower. Villanova likes to force difficult shots on the defensive end, though will again have trouble stopping Marshall, Jones and Zach Hankins down low. To break the losing streak, Villanova has to shoot better, it’s almost as simple as that. In its last two losses, the Wildcats are a brutal 20-for-73 from deep and that’s not going to cut it against many teams. Booth can still drive and Scoreinside the paint, but without his outside shot falling, that takes away an element from the offense. In the loss to Georgetown it was kind of weird in that no one outside of Booth took more than Four shots inside the arc. Eric Paschall is always a threat, but he’s relied a little too much on threes in recent Games. To change it up, it wouldn’t be surprising if Jay Wright fed Saddiq Bey and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree the ball a little more in the post. Even if those guys can’t get going, it at least changes up the look for Xavier.
Unfortunately for ‘Nova, Xavier has the size to deal with those guys and probably has an edge in the paint. If the shots aren’t falling again for the Wildcats, they could be at the hands of another upset since they went on a winning streak because of a great shooting percentage. The Musketeers don’t have the record, but they’re playing better and riding a couple bigs to key wins down the stretch, and that’s more reliable than hoping your threes fall.
Our Pick – Xavier +6