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Xavier v. Villanova: Preview

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Xavier has had struggles on the road and now goes to the home of the best team in the conference. Is it possible for the Musketeers to win this game?

Darrun Hilliard II keys the Villanova offense
Darrun Hilliard II keys the Villanova offense
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

If every road game in the Big East is a challenge, this is the one that rises above the rest. If going to Butler or St. John's are Lhotse or Nuptse (#HimalayaKnowledge), this is Mt. Everest. Everything is familiar in terms of the road, it's just a lot harder. The Wildcats are 9-0 at home this year, beating St Joe's by 28, Temple by 23, and Xavier vanquishing Butler and DePaul by 12 and 17 respectively. In their last 41 games at home, Villanova has lost a grand total of five times.

That's Villanova at home, Xavier on the road on doesn't give much more reason for hope. In the last two seasons, Xavier is 7-14 away from home with such lackluster losses as USC and DePaul. For whatever reason, a very good Xavier team simply vanishes when they go on the road. Most recently, of course, the Musketeers went to Butler and got thoroughly thrashed by a Bulldogs team they should have beaten. Xavier remains 25th in the KenPom rankings, but all the gaudy computer numbers in the world aren't going to matter if they never pick up a solid road win. Villanova would certainly fall in the category, but does Xavier actually stand a chance there?

Team fingerprint:

On paper, no. Villanova's defense is absolutely suffocating. Only ten teams in the country are better in defensive efficiency, and a quick rundown of the Wildcats numbers shows why. Villanova is below 100th (and then only 108th) in only one category, offensive rebound rate. Teams grab 29.6% of their misses off the Wildcats. That would be encouraging, but Xavier's offensive rebounding rate has fallen to 34% as the season drags on. The numbers only get better from there. 44.8% field goal percentage inside the arc, 29.6% outside it. 11.6% block rate, 12.6% steal rate, 44.7% effective field goal percentage. There is just no really good way to get at Villanova.

When the Wildcats have the ball the news for Xavier fans isn't any better. As has been established by such noted offensive powers as Auburn, Xavier is dreadful on defense. Villanova, meanwhile, is seventh in the nation in offensive efficiency. 'Nova shoots 55.5% inside the arc, 35.3% outside it, and 69% from the line. 38% of their shots, though, come from deep. If that doesn't get the alarm bell clanging for Coach Mack and Co. the fact that 60% of Villanova field goals come from assists will. The Wildcats will rotate the ball until a big falls asleep inside or a rotation is slow, then they score. So far this year, that precision has led to possessions that last only 17 seconds. When Villanova does miss, they grab offensive rebounds at the exact same rate as the Musketeers.

Starters:

Ryan Arcidiacono Point Guard Dee Davis
Junior Class Senior
6-3, 195 Measurements 6-0, 160
8.3/1.8/4.3 Game line 9.9/2.0/5.6
.339/.273/.760 Shooting line .429/.326/.784
This is the one place where Xavier has a clear advantage. You'll never hear it from the national media, but Dee is the superior point man in this matchup. Arcidiacono does take better care of the ball, but nowhere else does he compare to the Musketeers point guard.
Dylan Ennis Guard Remy Abell
Junior Class Junior
6-2, 192 Measurements 6-4, 200
10.4/4.3/3.3 Game line 10.1/1.8/1.9
.442/.348/.606 Shooting line .549/.429/.750
Abell will probably split time guarding Ennis and Hilliard II. Ennis splits his attempts equally from inside and outside the arc but spends most of his time either at the free throw line extended or the rim.
Darrun Hilliard II Forward Trevon Bluiett
Senior Class Freshman
6-6, 215 Measurements 6-6, 215
13.5/2.5/1.9 Game line 12.8/5.1/.2.1
.459/.373/.756 Shooting line .460/.364/.811
Hilliard is a real matchup problem for the Musketeers. Nearly half of his shots come from deep, but he can also get to the rim. His game is actually remarkably comparable to Bluiett's. The only place they differ is that the Villanova senior is elite at protecting the ball.
JayVaughn Pinkston Center James Farr
Senior Class Junior
6-7, 235 Measurements 6-10, 237
10.3/6.1/1.6 Game line 5.6/6.0/0.7
.422/.000/.717 Shooting line .419/.286/.600
Pinkston's numbers are down from last year, but he's still capabale of being a major threat. He's blocking 1.5 shots per game and adding nearly a steal per contest. Farr's numbers are coming up recently, but this one will be a challenge for him.
Daniel Ochefu Center Matt Stainbrook
Junior Class Senior
6-11, 245 Measurements 6-10, 263
10.1/8.7/1.4 Game line 12.4/7.3/2.1
.660/.000/.690 Shooting line .646/.333/.750
Ochefu may have an inch on Stainbrook, but he's wafer thin in comparison. He throws 1.5 shots per game and grabs defensive rebounds at the eighth best rate (28.4%) in the nation. This should be a battle worth watching.

Reserves:

Josh Hart gets more minutes than Ochefu and comes off the bench to get 10.1/5.1/1.7. He'll get on the offensive glass and shoots 39.5% from deep. Kris Jenkins is a 6-6 swing man who goes for 7.8/2.0/0.7. In three of Villanova's last five games, he's gone for double digits in scoring. The only other Wildcat to appear in every game is Phil Booth, a 6-3 freshman. Booth backs up the guards and knocks down 42.3% of his three point attempts.

Three questions:

Can Xavier defend on the road? 1.10, 1, 1.06, 1.11, and 1.29. Those are the points per possession Xavier has allowed in their five losses away from home this year. The 1.29 from Butler leaps off the screen, and that's the most recent example. Quite simply, Xavier will lose today if Villanova goes for anything near 1.1 points per possession.

Will another guard appear? Brandon Randolph, Larry Austin Jr., and JP Macura have faded into relative obscurity recently. Dee and Myles Davis have done a decent job handling the ball, but Myles isn't a true point guard and tends to limit his own time by being bad on defense and eager to shoot. Remy Abell really only needs breaks to get some quick rest, but he can't get that unless someone else is ready to go. Xavier is nearing crisis level here, someone needs to force Coach Mack's hand.

Can Xavier bring the three bigs to bear? Perhaps the only place Xavier has an advantage is on the offensive glass. Stainbrook, Farr, and Jalen Reynolds can rebound with anyone in the nation. They will have to do that, and get touches in the post, for Xavier to have a chance. If Stainbrook is getting the ball deep on the block early and often, X has a chance.

Three keys:

Play some defense: Yes, this is a repeat of question one, but Xavier fans should remember what happened at Villanova last year. That absolutely will happen again if Xavier doesn't figure something, anything, out on defense. Zone? Press? Matchup? Play six guys? Something has to change.

Slow the pace: Neither team likes to take much more than 17 seconds to shoot and both teams are in the top 10 in offensive efficiency. The difference is that Villanova is good at defense and Xavier is terrible. If the Musketeers can keep the chances limited they can probably score with the Wildcats. If this turns into a track meet, the defense will crack.

Make Villanova earn it: If there is one Achilles' heel to the Wildcat offense, it's that 69% from the line. In the win over DePaul, they shot 44% on their free throws. When in doubt, hammer somebody.