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Xavier v. Villanova: Preview

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Xavier has their work more than cut out for them as they face the best team in the conference without the services of Matt Stainbrook.

This guy (James Bell) can really play.
This guy (James Bell) can really play.
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

This is not the ideal scenario for Xavier. Fresh off what should have been an NCAA Tournament bid clinching win over Creighton, they lost to Seton Hall and lost the inimitable Matt Stainbrook in the process. No matter who you ask, Xavier cannot rest comfortably on their achievements, impressive though they may be, thus far in the season. One more win should do it. Just one more win and Xavier should be back in their rightful place come Selection Sunday. This isn't just a less than ideal scenario because Xavier needs one more win though, it's also because of who they need to get it against.

Villanova has lost exactly one time this year to a team that didn't feature Doug McDermott. That game, a loss to Syracuse, saw the Wildcats take an 18 point lead over a squad that will most likely occupy a spot on the one seed line when all is said and done. In short, Nova is very, very good. Were the tournament to start today, Jerry Palm of CBS predicts that Nova would be a one seed themselves. So, lacking a vital cog and coming off a disheartening loss, Xavier returns to the Cintas Center to play the best team in the Big East.

Team fingerprint:

Offensively and defensively, Villanova is elite. There's not really any other way to put it. The offense is ninth in the nation in adjust efficiency and achieves that by essentially being excellent everywhere. The lowest the Wildacts rank in anything is 105th, and that's in free throw shooting. They make up for that by going to the line more frequently than a vast majority of the teams in the nation. 36.1% from behind the arc, where they take 45.6% of their shots, 54.3% from inside the arc, and effective field goal percentage of 54.3%, turnovers on less than 18% of possessions, and an offensive rebounding rate of 33.7%. Nova is an offensive powerhouse.

On defense, they are very nearly as good. An adjusted efficiency of 94.1 puts them 21st in the nation. They force turnovers on over 20% of opponents possessions, hold teams to 42.9% inside the arc, limit teams to recovering 29.7% of their own misses, block 11% of shot attempts, and rack up steals another 10% of the time. The only place Villanova can really be hurt defensively is from deep, where teams shoot 35.4%.

There's a reason these guys are going to get a one or two seed.

Starters:

The player: 6-6, 225 senior guard James Bell.
The numbers: 15.1/6.0/1.6 on .442/.399/.818 shooting.
More numbers: 116.6 ORtg, 59.7% true shooting,
The words: Bell is a guard who fills it up from everywhere and rebounds like a forward. 60% of Bell's attempts come behind the arc, and the rest, almost without exception come at the rim. The guy just very much likes to score and will do it any way he can. He has the highest shots percentage (27.5%) on the team, but still manages to shoot 44% from the floor.

The player: 6-6, 215 junior guard Darrun Hilliard II.
The numbers: 14.1/3.7/2.8 on .480/.409/.696.
More numbers: 61.8% true shooting, 20.1% assist rate, 115.3 ORtg.
The words: Hilliard would be a standout anywhere else, and he's not exactly a forgotten man here, but he is only Villanova's third leading scorer. Hilliard is also a bloodless scorer, needing only nine shots per game to average 14 points. When he's not busy excelling offensively, Darrun runs up a steal rate (2.6%) good for a spot in the top 350 in the nation. Much like Bell, fewer than 10% of Hilliard's shots will come as two point jumpers. Darrun does drive more than his backcourt mate, despite shooting a higher percentage from deep.

The player: 6-3, 195 sophomore guard Ryan Arcidiacono.
The numbers: 9.9/2.4/3.5 on .400/.336/.724 shooting.
More numbers: 21.4% assist rate, 14% TO rate, 115.7 ORtg.
The words: Arcidiacono is the worst shooter in Nova's starting five, something that hasn't kept him from lifting 146 threes so far this year. What he does exceptionally well is take care of the ball and get it into the hands of the three big guns to keep them scoring. Probably the most telling stat about Arcidiacono is that he plays 75.5% of the minutes, tops on the team.

The player: 6-7, 260 junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston.
The numbers: 14.3/6./1.6 on .523/.267/.767 shooting.
More numbers: 9.9% offensive rebounding rate, 60.2% true shooting, 116.6 ORtg.
The words: Pinkston was 3-3 from behind the arc against Xavier in the first meeting, one of only four games in which he's attempted more than two three pointers and the only one in which he's made more than one. Pinkston is 3-7 from deep in conference play. Where usually does his damage is at the rim, where he's shooting 66.2%, and on two point jumpers, which account for a surprising 30% of his shots.

The player: 6-11, 245 sophomore forward Daniel Ochefu.
The numbers: 5.9/6.1/1.4 on .625/.000/.525 shooting.
More numbers: 10.9% offensive rebounding rate, 22% defensive rebounding rate, 7.5% block rate.
The words: Ochefu would be a star if he could stay on the floor for more than 52% of the available minutes, but his propensity to foul and inability to score effectively combine to limit his time. Ochefu is a monster on the glass on both ends and ranks in the top 100 in the nation in block percentage.

Reserves:
Josh Hart is a 6'5" freshman wing who rebounds like a fiend, especially on the offensive end. He rarely turns the ball over and posts a very efficient 7.7 and 4.3 in his 20 minutes per game. Dylan Ennis is a 6'2" guard who spells the back court to the tune of 17 minutes per game. He scores 5.9 and gets 1.8 assists per game but shoots a deplorable .375/.329/.805. Tony Chennault is a backup guard who dishes out 1.9 assists per game and Kris Jenkins measures out at 6'6", 255 but rebounds like Brandon Randolph.

Three questions:
-How will Jalen perform?
We have seen freshman man-child Jalen Reynolds make huge steps forward in the past couple of weeks, but this will be his biggest test. He was able to handle a complex offensive system against Creighton, but a bruising big man in Seton Hall's Eugene Teague left him in foul trouble. Nova has one of the prettiest offenses there is, but Daniel Ochefu is a better matchup for Reynolds. If Jalen can be massive in the middle, it will greatly boost Xavier's chances.

-Who will share the load on offense? If Seton Hall proved anything, it's that Semaj can go off and that can still be insufficient for a Xavier victory. JMart is the obvious answer to this question, but our look at three-point shooting from earlier in the week (linked below) shows that the kind of games Dee Davis hits threes in are the kind of games Xavier wins. Regardless of who it is, someone needs to be sharing the load with Semaj on offense or I'm confident in saying Xavier has no hope.

-Can Xavier slow Nova down? Villanova's offense puts up some incredible numbers, but the one that leaps off the page to me is the fact that they assist 58% of their baskets. I've watched them play on a couple of occasions, and their ball movement is mesmerizing. Xavier is going to have to do something to disrupt their flow, because they can brutalize teams who don't.

Three keys:
-Get Philmore involved.
Call it a hunch, but I'm feeling a key performance for Xavier's senior forward. Villanova is not an especially tall team, nor do they return an inordinate amount of shots. Philmore is all graft in the post, and he has shown an increasing amount of guile (and jump shooting range) to go with it. This might be the kind of game where he ends up with something like 13 and 8.

-Gang rebound. Daniel Ochefu is the only Wildcat with above average size for his position, but all of their forwards and some of their guards pride themselves on being in the mix when the ball comes off the rim. Xavier is missing their big man in the middle, so it is going to be imperative for everyone to get in on the action on the glass. X has to hold their own on the boards to keep Nova in check.

-Protect the basketball. This is obvious, but it is especially important this game. With Stainbrook out and an elite defensive team in town, points per possession are going to be down. This in turn places a premium on getting a look at the bucket on every possession. The Musketeers can't surrender opportunities to score by making silly turnovers, and they certainly can't give up the free points that come with steals and breakaway layups. Clutch the pumpkin.