No. 15 Xavier (13-2, 3-0) has begun Big East play in impressive fashion. The Musketeers mauled Providence 82-56 in the conference opener. The Xavier offense was on fire in that game, as it shot 60 percent from the floor. They were given a much closer fight by Georgetown but still came away with the 81-76 win thanks to Edmond Sumner’s career-high 28 points. And in their most recent game, they absolutely stormed through the St. John’s Red Storm in a 97-82 win. The Xavier offense once again fired on all cylinders as it shot 58.6 percent from the field and 10-of-21 from beyond the arc.
The sophomore Sumner has been spectacular to start conference play, averaging 20.3 points on 59 percent shooting. J.P. Macura has chipped in with 16 points, while Trevon Bluiett – the team’s leading scorer on the season with 17.7 points – is yet to find his groove. He’s averaging just 12.7 points on 35 percent shooting. The Musketeers are also set to get a boost in the backcourt with senior guard Myles Davis returning from a 15-game suspension.
Sumner was sensational the last time he faced Villanova. He had 19 points, 6 rebounds, and 9 assists while Macura had 16 points off the bench to lead the Musketeers to a 90-83 home win over then-No. 1 Villanova.
The Wildcats (15-1, 3-1) won’t be No. 1 coming into this year's first matchup after they suffered their first loss of the season to the Butler Bulldogs, 66-58, last week. Villanova’s terrific offense (currently No. 1 in the country in offensive efficiency per KenPom.com) was bogged down by the Bulldog defense as it shot just 37 percent from the floor and 6-of-26 (23 percent) from downtown. Senior Josh Hart had his worst game of the year as he was limited to just 13 points on 3-of-11 shooting. Hart and his teammates bounced back quite nicely, though, in their 90-81 win over Marquette. The Wildcats were led by Kris Jenkins’ 23 points (7-11 FGs, 6-9 3-PFGs), and shot a sizzling 65 percent from the field and 14-of-23 from beyond the arc.
Jenkins, the senior forward who famously won the Wildcats the national championship with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer last season, and sophomore guard Jalen Brunson have been the stars of conference play thus far. The two combined for 48 points in their 80-70 win over a No. 10 Creighton team. Brunson currently leads the team with 19.8 points on 66 percent shooting through four conference games. Meanwhile, Jenkins is averaging 16.8 points and 4 3-pointers per game.
Keys to the Game
- Limit the Villanova 3-pointers. The Wildcats are reliant on the 3-point shot to get their offense going, so the Musketeers must be ready to close out the Nova shooters.
- Attack the paint. The Musketeers’ outstanding guards need to be aggressive and challenge the Wildcats’ big men at the rim.
- Get the ball moving. Villanova is at its best when it’s getting other people involved and it’s not the Josh Hart show, so the likes of Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson must be factors.
- Win the battle of the boards. Villanova has been a bad rebounding team, but Xavier hasn’t been that much better. The Wildcats were able to hold their own on the boards against a very good rebounding Purdue team earlier this season, and it’ll need a similarly strong effort against Xavier.
Xavier Projected Lineup
G Edmond Sumner (Sophomore) | J.P. Macura (Junior) | G Malcolm Bernard (Senior) | G/F Trevon Bluiett (Junior) | RaShid Gaston (Senior)
Villanova Projected Lineup
G Jalen Brunson (Sophomore) | G Mikal Bridges (Sophomore) | G Josh Hart (Senior) | F Kris Jenkins (Senior) | F Darryl Reynolds (Senior)
Xavier has proven they have the horses to hang with Villanova, but beating the Wildcats at home will be a tough task. Villanova has enough weapons, not to mention a top closer in Hart, to eventually outlast the Musketeers.
Tip-Off is at 7pm ET on Fox Sports 1 - The Pavilion - Villanova, PA
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