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Xavier v. Villanova: Preview, matchups, and keys to the game.

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X beat the future National Champions at Cintas Center last year. Can they repeat the trick this time around?

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Xavier
More of this, please.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in program history, Xavier is hosting a conference game against the reigning national champions. Judging from the pictures of the tent city that every body and his mom was sending out yesterday, Cintas is going to be rocking by the time the ball goes up at 2:30. Gus Johnson will be on the mic. Everything good and big about being in the Big East will be on display today.

There’s also the small matter of the actual game. Xavier’s current marquee win is over a Creighton team that went from great to very good after losing its star point guard. A win today would dramatically rearrange the Muskies resume.

Team fingerprint

Nova is really good at offense. Everybody knows they can shoot the three, but they’re actually connecting on “only” 37.2% of their tries from deep this year. They are deadly inside the arc though, ranking third in the nation with a 59% success rate on two-point attempts and 80.2% FT% as a team. Ball security isn’t a problem, but they’re only about average on the offensive glass.

Defensively, they’re also top notch. They lead the nation in defensive FTA/FGA, so getting to the line on them is a struggle. They’re a split on the free possession battle, defending the glass well but not forcing a lot of turnovers. They’re surprisingly average at two-point defense, and - while they give up a ton of attempts from deep - their defensive 3P% is a sterling 30.6%.

Also, they love to slow the game down. They’re in the bottom 30 in the nation in tempo.

Players

Jalen Brunson Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Sophomore Class Freshman
6'2", 190 Measurements 6'4", 194
14.1/2.4/4.2 Game Line 4.2/1.3/2.5
.535/.388/.872 Shooting Line .371/.360/.542
With the departure of Ryan Arcidiacano, this guy has shouldered more of the load than he did as a freshman, and his excellence has been a large reason why Nova is ranked #2 in the nation. He has blossomed into a point guard that will almost certainly be in the conversation for first team all-Big East with his excellent distribution stats and top 10 showings in 2pt%, True Shooting %, Effective Field Goal %, and Free Throw%. If there is a knock on Brunson's game it is that he is coming in on a 2-15 slump from deep and HE HASN'T BLOCKED A SHOT ALL YEAR! WHAT A LOSER!
Josh Hart Shooting Guard JP Macura
Senior Class Junior
6'5", 215 Measurements 6'5", 203
19.2/6.6/3.4 Game Line 14.2/4.4/2.4
.514/.406/.792 Shooting Line .445/.336/.813
Most every credible college basketball publication has this guy near or at the top of the list of Naismith Award frontrunners, and for good reason. He has been in double digits in every game this year and has scored 20 or more 11 times. He grabs defensive rebounds at the same rate as Tyrique Jones, spreads the ball to his teammates well, and doesn't turn it over much. He also had a triple double one time. He has had his shooting numbers dip since conference play and is shooting a mortal .375 from three in Big East play.
Mikal Bridges Small Forward Trevon Bluiett
Sophomore Class Junior
6'7", 210 Measurements 6'6", 200
10.5/4.8/2.3 Game Line 18.7/6.0/2.1
.571/.420/.925 Shooting Line .446/.382/.764
If you are excited to see the back of Hart after this year, don't check Bridges' best comps on KenPom (Hart shows up twice). This guy is long and quick and has tormented Big East opponents by stealing the ball at a higher rate than anyone else in the conference. He also blocks a lot of shots, although it is at the expense of a pretty pedestrian defensive rebounding rate. On offense he is explosive going to the hole, is a knock down shooter from three, and hasn't missed a free throw in conference play. He only shoots 16% of the time, but when he does, he is deadly.
Kris Jenkins Power Forward Malcolm Bernard
Senior Class Senior
6'6", 235 Measurements 6'6",202
13.0/4.1/1.9 Game Line 5.8/3.8/1.7
.387/.387/.900 Shooting Line .403/.385/.594
Life has to be weird after you hit basically the biggest shot possible in college basketball and then go back to school to do it all over again. Jenkins' shooting numbers have really dipped in his senior year, due mostly to the fact that he isn't finishing inside as well as he did last year. His saving grace is the fact that he has gotten to the line more frequently this year and, ya know, is shooting 90% there.
Darryl Reynolds Center Tyrique Jones
Senior Class Freshman
6'9", 240 Measurements 6'9", 237
5.3/5.5/0.4 Game Line 3.5/3.2/0.4
.703/.000/.683 Shooting Line .556/.000/.536
Reynolds has stepped into the shoes of Daniel Ochefu and shot less than 3 times a game. That's right, a starter who plays 24 minutes a game doesn't even squeeze off a shot every 8 game minutes. What he does do is get a ton of rebounds and play really tough defense. His turnover rate is a bit high, but that is tempered by the fact that he rarely touches the ball.

Reserves

Villanova has been two deep off the bench most of the year after Phil Booth went down in November with a knee injury and still hasn’t returned. Donte Divincenzo is a 6’5” guard who will slot in at the two and shift Hart to the point when he is in. He is a streaky outside shooter, but loves to get in the lane and on the offensive glass to make his presence felt. Underneath, Fordaham transfer Eric Paschall spells Jenkins and Reynolds and uses his 6’7”, 250 pound frame to great effect in the lane on offense, both rebounding and scoring well. He isn’t afraid to stretch the floor with a three, although he is only shooting .264 from outside, and blocks shots really well for someone who is undersized for his position.

Three questions:

- Can Quentin Goodin run the point against an elite team? Goodin has been great thus far at protecting the ball despite a very high usage rate. Nova doesn’t force a lot of turnovers, but they willingly accept bad shots and stagnant offense. This is Goodin’s harshest test as the starting point guard so far, and likely the hardest he’ll face all year.

- Can Xavier get to the line? Nova is the best in the nation at not allowing free throws. Xavier is 13th best in the nation at getting to the free throw line. Something has to give.

- What of JP? In Macura’s last two games he’s started to show that the shooting might be coming back online. In conference play, he’s knocking down 61% of his two point field goals. Unfortunately, JP has played only two games this calendar year that didn’t feature multiple turnovers. His 20% TO rate in the conference is the highest of his career. Xavier can’t afford his being careless with the ball today.

Three keys:

- Get on the glass: Villanova is almost as good at keeping teams off the offensive glass as Xavier is at getting to it. Sean O’Mara, Rashid Gaston, and Tyrique are going to have to hammer to get inside and get stickbacks. It’s vital that Xavier can collect their own misses and turn them into points, because they aren’t going to be able to count on good looks in the paint otherwise.

- Knock down threes: There are going to be shots to be had outside. 40% of opponent’s shots against the Wildcats come from behind the arc. In their last two games, Xavier is shooting 43% from deep. Keep that up, and this just might happen.

- Contest the arc: When Villanova has lost this year it has been because of horrid shooting from deep. If they make even 25% of the threes they take in a game, they win. Make less than that, though, and they lose. Butler harassed shooters beyond the arc and attempted to contest inside. Marquette gave up the inside altogether (allowing Nova to make 64% of their two point attempts) but clamped down outside. If even a quarter of Villanova’s outside shots go down, X is in real trouble.