Hello all and welcome to one of the most frightening weeks for Xavier basketball. Your Musketeers are taking on top 10 Villanova in Philadelphia. We know that you all have been faithfully following your Musketeers, but what about those Wildcats? Lucky for you, we sat down with Chris Lane over at VU Hoops and asked him questions about Villanova. I already answered his questions so take a look at the link.
1.) 15-1 and in the top 10, how are things going in Nova Land?
If you're a rational fan (which I'm quite proud to say there are a few), things are great. The Seton Hall loss was a product of The Hall playing a good game and Villanova not being able to hit anything from the floor or the FT line. As we saw this past weekend, you lose when that happens. Other than that, the style of play is easy to root for and the players are all likable. And they're winning. Often.
We're getting in to this rare territory where nothing is ever good enough though - which is fun and also maddening to see. 15-point+ wins are nitpicked to an alarming degree and despite Villanova's success on the recruiting trail developing in to success on the court, some corners of the fanbase think that if we're not landing 5-star type talents we're "striking out."
Ask me again in April though - if Villanova is on a deep tournament run, it's been a great year. If there's an early postseason flameout like last season, VU Hoops should be bookmarked as a fun leisurely read.
2.) Last year's Villanova team was a great team for much of the season but fell short in March. With all of the upperclassman on the team this year, how do you think they have progressed from last year?
If you don't follow the team regularly you probably think that Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston have taken a step back because their scoring has dipped. Really not true and Hilliard in particular is starting to show take-over-the-game ability again. The balanced scoring is just a byproduct of everyone on the team caring more about winning than their individual stats - which oddly enough sometimes turns in to too much passing for the perfect shot.
In particular, I think Daniel Ochefu's progression has been vital. He's now a legit post presence that they still don't go to often enough. But it's nice to know he's there and many teams still haven't adjusted to his talent. And when they do, he's still too good for them. Having a safety valve like that when they need a bucket is a good thing.
3.) This Villanova squad seems to be almost unlimited in it's depth. Which sneaky good players should Xavier watch out for on Wednesday?
You probably know the name Josh Hart, but since he comes off the bench and does a lot of the dirty work, he can be undervalued in the scouting report. He's a monster on the boards and has improved his outside shot a ton since last season. Kris Jenkins will give up some silly fouls on defense, but he's a sniper from the outside and if you leave him open he'll make you pay. Phil Booth is a freshman guard that is just starting to get the minutes that his play has warranted. Jay Wright brought him along slowly, but he's a great defender and a capable offensive player. He's probably the last guy any coach worries about given the talent around him, but it's let him make a really positive impact so far.
4.) From an outside perspective, I absolutely love the Big 5 of Philadelphia basketball. For our readers in Midwest Musketeer land, can you describe what it's like being in such an awesome yearly tradition?
Oh, you guys like the Big 5? I'll admit I'm a sucker for tradition but this one doesn't really stick with me. I think it's great that these five schools make the effort to play each other but in most years Villanova's OOC schedule suffers because of it. I'm fine playing Temple and St. Joseph's (PA) every year but I'm not sure why La Salle and Penn are doing for Villanova. But if you haven't been to The Palestra, you need to catch a game. It's a venue that definitely lives up to the hype.
Oh, and feel free to berate any media member you see using 'City 6.' Drexel are wannabes.
5.) Confession time: I have never been to Philly. If I was traveling to the game, where would you recommend I go before and after the game?
I suppose it depends on whether you're catching a game at the Pavilion or the Wells Fargo Center, so I'll give you both. If you're coming to campus, Kelly's is the big bar that most students frequent (though I spent my formative years at Maloney's). You'll hear a lot about Minella's Diner but it's really the same as any other diner. Avoid that and head to Joe's Place in Wayne.
If you're heading downtown, ignore the Geno's/Pat's media machine and grab a steak from Jim's on South Street and thank me later. The tailgating scene usually kicks up 2-3 hours before the game. I know you O-H-I-O folks aren't afraid of freezing temperatures and cold beer, so hopefully we'll get a game there in the future.
6.) What is your prediction for how this game will go?
Before the year I marked this as one of two home games that frightened me. Students are back for classes so the atmosphere should be pretty good with a 9pm tip, but Xavier's depth probably means that Villanova needs to win on talent rather than wearing down the opposition and putting them in to foul trouble. I do think Villanova is more talented, but I think this ends similar to how the last meeting ended. Villanova wins 74-66