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Xavier v. Villanova: preview, matchups, keys to the game

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There is no game that provides a better measure of where Xavier stands than a road tilt at Nova.

NCAA Basketball: Marquette at Villanova Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Ken Pomeroy is a college basketball metrics guru noted for his ability to break each team, player, and game down to its most pertinent points. As things like rebounding margin fade into their rightful place into oblivion, it’s a revolution largely led by Pomeroy that ushers in their replacements. One of KenPom’s inventions is taking all of that information and breaking it down into the chances that one team has to win the game. When Xavier travels to Villanova, they’re staring down the barrel of a 17%.

The reason that number is so low for a team as good as the Musketeers is because the Wildcats are, by a fair number of measures, the best team in the nation. KenPom and ESPN have the metrics covered with Nova at number one. If you prefer good old humans and the eye test, both the AP and USA Today have Jay Wright’s crew away from the chasing pack by some margin. These guys are the best, and that’s generally without debate.

Team fingerprint:

The second most efficient offense in the nation (Duke is better, if you must know) is built on the back of .514/.415/.753 as a team. That’s an absurd line for a player, and Nova does it as a squad. Along with the shooting, Villanova turns the ball over fewer than all but three teams in the nation. They don’t get to the line a lot, and they don’t play terribly fast, but they are choke the life out of you efficient.

On defense, on the other hand, the Wildcats are in a slump. They possess the worst defensive efficiency in the Big East since conference play started, mostly because teams are blasting them for 42.1% from behind the arc and grabbing 41.6% of their misses. Nova is still forcing turnovers on a respectable 18.5% of opponent’s possessions in conference, down from over 20% in the non-conference. Yes, some of those numbers come from Butler’s 15-22 from behind the arc, but DePaul got to them for 85 points and Marquette dropped 90 on them as well.

Personnel

  • Five of the top twelve players in the Big East in two-point shooting percentage play for Villanova.
  • Jalen Brunson (6) and Mikal Bridges (8) are both in the top ten of the KenPom Player of the Year standings.
  • Five guys on Villanova have hit at least 20 threes while shooting at least 39.7% from three on the year.

Starters

Starting matchups
Jalen Brunson Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Junior Class Sophomore
6'2", 190 Measurements 6'4", 190
19.4/3.3/5.2 Game line 8.4/2.8/5.6
0.59/0.493/0.746 Shooting line 0.439/0.136/0.867
This dude has been as advertised since he showed up on campus, and he's blowing up this year. He's shooting 70% at the rim, 60% from mid-range, and basically 50% from deep. Almost half of his threes are off the bounce, as are all 32 of his made mid-range jumpers. When he has the ball in his hands, he knows how to get his. He also assists 30% of his teammates' baskets and has the turnover rate of a spot-up shooter. I mean, hot dang.
Phil Booth Shooting Guard J.P. Macura
Junior Class Senior
6'3", 195 Measurements 6'5", 203
11.8/3.3/2.9 Game line 13.1/4.1/3.1
0.504/0.426/0.727 Shooting line 0.483/0.367/0.855
Booth is back and healthy after missing last year with a knee injury, and he's right back in stride. He's not a high usage dude, but he's extremely efficient with his possessions. He's a solid defender who knows his role; a good glue guy who has a history of coming up pretty big in clutch situations.
Eric Paschall Small Forward Trevon Bluiett
Junior Class Senior
6'7", 250 Measurements 6'6", 202
9.9/4.5/2.1 Game line 19.4/5.6/2.7
0.481/0.167/0.84 Shooting line 0.453/0.417/0.859
What a load this dude is at small forward. He has been lights out in conference play, shooting 16-23 from the floor and posting an ORtg of 156.8. He's usually not going to hunt shots, but he'll rebound a bit and play defense at just about any position. Also, he's built like a brick outhouse. This will be a challenge for Tre.
Mikal Bridges Power Forward Kaiser Gates
Junior Class Junior
6'7", 210 Measurements 6'8", 228
17.8/5.6/2.1 Game line 8.8/5.4/1.1
0.516/0.452/0.813 Shooting line 0.418/0.427/0.8
The 8th best player in the nation according to the KenPom POY standings isn't even the best player on his team, but Bridges has been a force this year. Almost all of his threes are catch-and-shoot, as are about half of his looks at the bucket. He's not creating his own stuff like Brunson does, but he's converting the chances he's given at an incredible rate. He's also an incredible defender; whomever he's guarding is going to have a tough day.
Omari Spellman Center Tyrique Jones
Freshman Class Sophomore
6'8", 255 Measurements 6'9", 237
10.4/7.7/0.7 Game line 9.2/5.9/0.6
0.468/0.465/0.692 Shooting line 0.685/0/0.574
I'm fully prepared to hate Spellman on the floor for four years, but never forget that the NCAA screwed him out of a year of ball last season. He's only alright around the rim, but he's hit 39 jumpers, including 20 threes. He's an incredible rebounder on both ends and is second in the conference in block percentage.

Reserves

Not much, honestly. Jay Wright has only been getting a bit over a quarter of his minutes off the bench this year. Donte DiVincenzo is a reserve wing getting 12.5/4.3/3.0 in his 27.5 minutes per game. He’ll score it from all over and has freakish athleticism that translates on both offense and defense.

Beyond him, you might see a bit of Dhamir Cosby-Rountree, a freshman forward who is putting up an EFG% of 78.6% on the year. Basically everything he shoots will be at the rim.

Three questions:

- When will Trevon break out? Bluiett’s numbers tell us that he will get back into a rhythm at some point soon after his early January slump. Villanova seems like an obliging opponent for a three point shooter to rediscover form, and Xavier isn’t winning this game if Tre scores 12 first half points and then vanishes.

- Can Xavier stanch the bleeding? Xavier’s offense may have played well enough to win against Providence, maybe, but the defense did no favors. The 1-3-1 remains a weapon against teams that haven’t seen it before, but in the Big East Providence just provided a blueprint for tearing it apart. If the Friars can shoot X to death, one shudders at the thought of what Villanova might do.

- Will the freshman contribute? Naji Marshall and Paul Scruggs have not been consistently good in conference play. Quentin Goodin has lifted the point guard load heroically, but at some point, he’s going to need a rest. Marshall returning to the form that saw him spark the comeback against ETSU or drop 11/3/1 on Marquette would also help ease the load on the bigs and the seniors.

Three keys:

- Take a punch: At some point in time during this game Villanova is going to go on something like a 11-2, 15-4, or 9-0 run. Xavier has watched those runs turn huge in the past against Nova, and they’ll get buried if they let it happen again. Take the hit, rally, then dig back into the game.

- Don’t get buried early: At some point in this “rivalry” Xavier got into the habit of falling behind early and never having a chance. Last year at the Cintas they were down 12 at the half, the year previous they trailed by 18 at The Pavilion (or Wells Fargo Center, or whatever). If that happens, it’s done and dusted.

- Feed the bigs: While Nova can be, and has been, gashed from behind the arc, that’s not Xavier’s strength. Frankly, rare are the games where you are going to beat the Wildcats by going toe to toe from deep. Nova doesn’t defend the paint (49.2% opponent’s FG%) and X’s bigs are eating right now. One way to neutralize a three point barrage would be to feed Tyrique, Kerem Kanter, and Sean O’Mara and see if Nova can hang down low for 40 minutes.