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Xavier 75-88 Villanova: Recap

Xavier started the game with a lineup that made no sense, fell behind almost immediately, and kept the scoreline close only on heart. This was as ugly as they come.

This game, in one picture.
This game, in one picture.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Well, what did you expect? Beating Villanova at Villanova is a tall task for any team. It's happened five times in the last 41 games they've played in the comfy confines of The Pavilion. Come in playing some of the worst defense in recent memory and the task gets taller. For some reason, Coach Chris Mack thought this was the perfect time to make some radical changes to the lineup in the name of "sending a message." Mack started JP Macura and Larry Austin Jr. and, with the message that he wanted to lose this game very clearly sent, his players went out there and did just that.

I could tell you about 'Nova starting 12-19/8-12 from the floor, or about Xavier turning the ball over three times and missing three shots in the first four minutes, or about Villanova pouring in points, or about Matt Stainbrook getting no joy, or about Remy Abell picking up two quick fouls, or about any of a host of things, and they'd all be correct, but this game comes down to the fact that it was essentially over at the tip. This was a lineup that suggested capitulation and a team that responded to that message.

Coaches walk a fine line between motivating their players and frustrating them. No one thinks it's easy to massage the egos of young men who have been told for the last eight years that they are destined for greatness. For the most part, Coach Mack has done and excellent job of this. He got Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons to share a solitary basketball. He got the best out of Kenny Frease when he needed it the most, and he turned Travis Taylor into an absolute monster. To be so wrong tonight, then, was surprising.

Wrong he was though, and at the break Xavier was down 18, 45-27. Villanova was shooting .485/.500/1.00, the Musketeers had turned the ball over eight times. Stainbrook and Jalen Reynolds were, predictably, doing well inside against the Wildcats, but it simply didn't matter. Exchanging two on one end for three on the other seemed like a trade off that Villanova was more than willing to make. Inexplicably, Coach Mack ran his starting five back out for the opening of the last 20 minutes. Whatever the point was, it apparently hadn't been made in the disastrous first half.

Despite Xavier having their way inside, and Stainbrook posting noticeably lower than he had been recently, Musketeer's guards still shot early and often. Apparently the message wasn't that bad shot selection will get you pulled, because JP Macura kept heaving and Dee Davis grew visibly frustrated, a situation he addressed by shooting more.

To Xavier's credit, they didn't quit. A 9-0 run in the second half cut the lead to 12. Villanova responded to that by, of course, burying two three pointers after Xavier guards helped down on the post way too hard. Those shots took Villanova to 30 three pointers attempted on the game with nine minutes to play and they just kept chucking. That profilgacy hurt them as the Musketeers just kept chipping away, but it also allowed them to answer any run with another three. All the heart in the world (and Xavier, all faults aside, displayed plenty of it) doesn't matter when you simply cannot stop a team from taking as many three pointers as they choose.

And that was pretty much it. Xavier fought back to make a 23 point deficit a 13 point loss. Ultimately, though, that won't matter. This game will go down as a loss in which Larry Austin Jr. started and Villanova shot 34 three pointers. On to the next.

Three answers:

Can Xavier defend on the road? Nope.

Will another guard appear? JP Macura played an excellent game tonight. Following his usual "if it feels like leather, it's going up" style of shot selection will leave him open to criticism from time to time, but he made the most of his opportunity. Based on tonight, he's earned some more time. Larry Austin Jr.played a lot, but didn't really do much of anything to justify that. Supposedly selected because of his defense, he was possibly worse on that end than he was offense. Brandon Randolph is, at time of writing, a rumor.

Can Xavier big the three bigs to bear? Matt Stainbrook was great, Jalen Reynolds was very good, and James Farr vanished again. The Musketeers had the beating of 'Nova inside, but the game was long gone before they could really make much of a difference.

Tweet of the game:

There were a bunch of contenders, and I'd recommend reading through our mentions to see some quality work from what I'll hesitantly call Xavier Nation. Shaun Krieger, though, brought home the win.

A quick thought:

Getting rid of King Carl Hess was a good start, but the Big East still has some serious officiating issues. The technical foul called on Daniel Ochefu was particularly egregious, but the officiating all game was so absurd as to almost seem like performance art. Unless that was a satirical take on the power wielded by referees, the work done in this game was a joke. And, no, it didn't change the outcome one little bit.