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Xavier v. Villanova: Preview

Xavier hosts another ranked team with a chance to send a strong message to the Selection Committee.

"I've missed you, Ryan."
"I've missed you, Ryan."
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

In some ways, this is the first game between Xavier and Villanova. I know they technically played before, but that game featured a shakeup from Coach Mack that saw two freshmen getting their first collegiate starts and just nine minutes of action for Remy Abell, the team's best defender. The result was an onslaught of three-point baskets from Villanova that began at the tip and carried on every time Xavier threatened to cut it to single digits in the second half.

A month and a half later, Xavier is a modest 7-5 since Coach Mack attempted to light a fire under the team, while Villanova has by and large dispatched every opponent the Big East has thrown at them. The Wildcats have locked up a share of the conference title and a first-round bye in the Big East tournament; they're playing the next two and a half weeks with an eye on seeding come Selection Sunday. Xavier is a fairly solid tournament team right now, but a win over Villanova would go a long way towards making Muskies fans more comfortable when Greg Gumbel starts reading off names.

Team fingerprint:
Let's start with that offense. Your plan against Nova better involve scoring a lot of points, because they're likely going to score a lot of points on you. They lead the Big East in both frequency and accuracy of three-point shooting, assist rate, and free throw rate. They're also second in 2P% and FT%. Their only "weak" points are TO%, where they're 5th, and OReb%, where they're 6th. Considering the ease with which they score the basketball, they probably feel like winning free possessions isn't worth the effort.

About that "scoring a lot of points" plan... Nova also has the league's best defensive efficiency. They're third in the league in forcing turnovers, second in defending inside the arc, and first in preventing three-point attempts and free throw attempts. Their defensive rebounding is mediocre and they don't block a lot of shots. Other than that, good luck.

Starters:

STARTING MATCHUPS
Ryan Arcidiacono Point guard Dee Davis
Junior Class Senior
6'3", 195 Measurements 6'0", 170
10.3/1.8/3.6 Game line 8.5/2.3/6.1
.394/.376/.813 Shooting line .388/.317/.699
Arcidiacono's twin roles on offense are to keep the ball moving without turning it over and hit open threes when given the opportunity, and he excels at both. He's not a frequent driver or a very good finisher in the lane, but he's shooting a blistering 35-74 (.473) from deep in Big East play. He also leads the conference in punches received from Sterling Gibbs with 1.
Dylan Ennis Shooting guard Myles Davis
Junior Class Sophomore
6'2", 195 Measurements 6'2", 195
9.0/3.8/3.4 Game line 11.2/2.5/2.2
.415/.357/.565 Shooting line .419/.405/.872
Ennis actually has a higher assist rate than Arcidiacono, but he is also more turnover prone. He's not the shooter his back court mate is, but he is a more capable scorer from inside the arc who looks for his shot a little bit more frequently when he's on the floor.
Darrun Hilliard Small forward Remy Abell
Senior Class Junior
6'6", 215 Measurements 6'4", 195
14.7/3.0/2.0 Game line 8.8/2.2/1.4
.449/.408/.795 Shooting line .497/.427/.750
Hilliard is the big deal for Villanova. He leads the conference in shots% and is a capable and consistent scorer from just about anywhere on the floor. He has been held under double digits just twice in conference play and is averaging 22.5 PPG on a total shooting line of 25-56/21-38/19-20 in his last four games. I'm sure there's a way to stop him, but nobody has really figured out how up to this point.
JayVaughn Pinkston Power forward Trevon Bluiett
Senior Class Freshman
6'7", 235 Measurements 6'6", 215
10.1/5.8/1.3 Game line 12.3/4.5/1.9
.449/.000/.768 Shooting line .452/.339/.757
Pinkston is not having the senior year he might have hoped to, but he's still an efficient scorer thanks to his ability to find his way to the free throw line. He leads the league in FT rate and has made more free throws than any of his teammates have attempted. He draws almost 6 fouls per game; good thing Xavier's best power forward isn't prone to hacking his way out of games!
Daniel Ochefu Center Matt Stainbrook
Junior Class Senior
6'11", 245 Measurements 6'10", 270
8.9/8.3/1.7 Game line 11.6/6.7/2.5
.636/.000/.679 Shooting line .600/.333/.771
Ochefu is a good rim protector and great rebounder, but to paint him as little more than Basketball Groot in the middle sells him a bit short. He doesn't get fed on the post or look for his shot with regularity, but he's competent from the line and knows how to select shots that he can make in the flow of the game. Left unattended, he'll occasionally go bonkers, like when he dropped 19/9/0 @Providence or 19/24(!)/0 @Seton Hall.

Reserves:
Josh Hart is a 6'5" forward who averages 9.8/4.5/1.5 on .487/.435/.689 shooting. He loves the corner threes and the right wing, and they love him right back. At 6'6", 240, Kris Jenkins is built like a brick outhouse but rebounds like a much smaller man. He goes for 6.5 and 2.1 a night and is 37-98 from three on the year, mostly from the left side of the floor. Backup combo guard Phil Booth is an excellent finisher and loves to find the top of the key or the right corner to shoot threes.

Three questions:
-How does Xavier defend? The first game didn't really give a solid idea of the matchups involved as Xavier started with an abnormal lineup and Villanova started with a blinding salvo of made baskets. That leaves us to wonder if Darrun Hilliard will be guarded by Trevon Bluiett - upon whom he has the experience advantage - or Remy Abell - upon whom he has the size advantage. Xavier's 1-3-1 is a wrinkle that could solve that, but it could be picked apart by Villanova's ball movement and three-point shooting. There's also the question of which of Xavier's foul-prone power forwards will have to take on Pinkston in the paint.

-How small does Coach Mack go? Villanova gets only 43% of their points on two-point shots, 336th in the nation, and they're not a great offensive rebounding club. It's far more important to have interchangeable players than big ones against the Wildcats; how small will X go, and how long do they run a small lineup?

-Who takes the big shot for Xavier? This one might come down to the wire, and what we saw on Monday against St. John's is not comforting in that regard. Remy Abell wanted it with ten seconds to go, but then he wasn't even on the floor for the final possession. The ball ended up with Myles Davis, but that was more a product of running out of time to pass again than wanting to score the ball. If this team needs a big score late in the game, where is the ball going?

Three keys:
-Win the freebie war. This is kind of key every game, but it's especially vital against an offense as electric as Nova's. Xavier needs to maximize their scoring opportunities by avoiding turnovers and getting offensive boards while diminishing Nova's by turning them over and killing possessions with defensive boards. Simple, but not easy.

-Stay patient on offense. You're not going to match Villanova three-for-three. They are going to have a stretch where they get about nine points from four possessions. Chucking and coming up empty leads to regrets later. Xavier needs to weather the storm by sticking with the plan on the offensive end.

-Good defensive rotations. The temptation against a team like this is to charge down the arc. Villanova knows that, and they are great at making the extra pass. Xavier needs to close out with discipline and recover quickly when the ball moves.