You all know what today is. Xavier begins it's 2015-2016 Big East schedule with possibly the biggest game on the schedule: at Villanova. We last met in the Big East Tournament championship game where our Musketeers fell short of the prize, but we get another shot at the Wildcats today. To get you ready for the game, we talked to our good friend Chris Lane over at VU Hoops. Let's see what he had to say.
1.) Villanova has looked good in the Big 5 games but fell short against Oklahoma and UVA. Where is the thermometer reading for 'Nova fans right now?
It's been a bit of a wacky year. Fans clamored for more elite OOC opponents and got what they wanted. Villanova lost both games, and now the team isn't very good in the eyes of a lot of fans. Careful what you wish for!
Frankly, the Oklahoma loss was embarrassing but was a combination of Villanova going in to jack-it-up mode and missing everything and Oklahoma going in to jack-it-up mode and making everything. To their credit, Villanova has adjusted and while they still shoot a ton from the outside, they are taking much better shots and are working the ball inside-out. Even against Virginia, the offense looked a lot better - the defense was the problem there. Virginia (like OU) shot the ball very well, but their ball movement was superb and Villanova had a hard time adjusting.
Jay Wright called it out the other day and I tend to agree - Villanova's defense is elite by the numbers, but probably not as good as the numbers suggest. And vice-versa for the offense, which is likely a ton better (especially shooting the ball) then they've shown so far. It's still a Top 3 team in the Big East for sure, and a team that can make it to the Sweet 16 and beyond but given the roster turnover their is some growing to do as the season goes on.
2.) Nova shoots a good amount of 3's in a game and Xavier does not guard the 3 well. How much trouble is X in because of this?
I want to say they are likely in a fair amount of trouble - but it will be predicated on how Villanova executes the offense. When the 'Cats are driving the ball and/or working it through Daniel Ochefu to set up shooters, they can be deadly. And that's how they have been playing lately. Can they stick to that gameplan? If so we're in for a great game.
If they force the action and take bad shots and generally get lazy with the offense, it could be a long night. Xavier plays a very similiar style of defense to Virginia, which gives me some hope because Villanova was well-prepared for that game and executed well.
3.) Thursday's game is at the Pavilion, which has a cool atmosphere but is pretty cozy. Will Villanova perform major surgery to upgrade the arena or is there a new facility in the works?
The university put out a plan, sort of under the radar, to give the arena a facelift and reduce capacity last year (or maybe the year before) and it was met with a lot of venom from us and a bunch of other alumni. Since then, Villanova has brought in a new Athletic Director from USC who has a ton of experience in capital projects and fundraising and he's stated that upgrading the arena is one of his top priorities. No new plans yet, but given the difficulty of working with Radnor Township, it's difficult to imagine blowing the damn place up and starting from scratch. Long term, it is definitely worth the investment and fight with the Township but I just don't know how many at 'Nova have the appetite for it.
So, without knowing what they're doing or thinking since not a ton has been said publicly, I would assume a major facelift is likely as both Mark Jackson (the new AD) and Jay Wright have at least come out and said they need to treat it as a revenue-generating endeavor which likely means more seats, suites, and better concessions.
4.) Jalen Brunson got a lot of hype heading into this season, but how good is he? And do you think he'll be a one and done?
I really don't think he's a one and done, at least based on what he has shown so far. But all anyone really needs is one good run - like Grayson Allen had last year - and all of a sudden you're a 1st round pick. So I can't say for sure.
I'll preface this by saying that Jalen Brunson is a very, very good guard. His IQ, instincts, and shot selection are all seasoned and you rarely see him do something that can be chalked up to 'well, he's a freshman' which is a treat. However, I think he's still learning how to be a leader on a team filled with really good players. He's played a bit timid and at times has deferred to other players on offense when it's clear he's capable of putting the team on his back.
The hope is that as the year goes on he gains more confidence and brings out the killer instinct that he showed in High School, AAU and with USA Basketball this past summer. It's there lying in wait, and Jay Wright needs to figure out how to bring it out of him.
5.) Xavier and Villanova met in last year's Big East Championship and there's been a lot of media talk about Xavier taking Villanova's spot as top dog in the Big East. Do you think Nova and X are going to see each other again in Madison Square Garden?
That's a tough question - I hope so! Madison Square Garden has been such a bane to Villanova up until last season, so maybe they've gotten over their demons there. But single-elimination tournaments are always such a crapshoot and given how good the Big East looks this season I think it's really hard to project 2 teams in to the final when there's probably 5-6 that are talented enough to get hot and end up there.
It would be great for the conference to have Xavier step up and become a dominant brand/program alongside Villanova since Georgetown is crapping all over the carpet, so here's hoping!
6.) Jay Wright is the best dressed coach in college basketball. How much fun is that?
It is a great deal of fun that we obviously have with our #SuitWatch series and Jay has evened mentioned it publicly a few times, so we're glad Coach is watching! I still have no idea why he thinks Colonel Sanders, err, Rick Pitino, is the best dressed coach in the game, but whatever. Jay is humble and hungry, and I can live with that.
I still have no idea why nobody in Villanova's marketing department hasn't implemented 'Wright Night @ The Pavilion' where all students wear a suit, but hey, I'm just a lowly blogger.
7.) For the Xavier fans traveling to the game, where should they eat and drink after the game?
You mean you aren't going to eat and drink before the game? Man, y'all Ohioans need to learn a thing or two! ;)
I always give a shout out to Maloney's, right down the street in Lancaster Ave. It's my old haunt and a great pub with cheap drinks, darts, beer pong, etc. Perfect for a pre-game, and depending on the result, a postgame as well. No food there though, so if you're looking for a bite with your beverage Kelly's (very close to Maloney's and again on Lancaster) has a solid menu and is a little more upscale. Since I haven't been to either in a few years I'm not sure if they'll be open before the game given the early start, but I would assume so on a gameday.
For just a food pick - I've had friends go to Avenue Kitchen (hey, on Lancaster again!) and say good things. So trust my friends if you trust me and if it stinks then I'll direct you to them.
8.) Score prediction?
I've gone back and forth on this the past few days - a lot of it has to do with Kris Jenkins' injury status - but since he played against Penn and seems to be doing okay with that sprained knee, I'm veering back towards confidence. I actually think that right now, Xavier is the more well-rounded and polished team and Villanova is still figuring a few things out. But given the game is at home and given Xavier's strong history of having no clue how to stop Villanova, I'm going with the home team in a close one. Villanova wins 78-74.