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Xavier @ Villanova: Preview, Players, Keys to the Game, et c.

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The defending Big East champs travel to take on their toughest challenger in an early battle for league supremacy.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Creighton
Jay Wright signaling to his players to find JP Macura and guard him, no matter where he is.
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

There's life yet in the season for the Musketeers. Dead and buried twice in the span of a week, X charged back to take two vital wins from the home stand. Now the defending conference champs head to Philly to take on the defending national champs.

Nova got out of the blocks late this year, somehow managing to lose to Furman in OT at home and Penn on the road to go with respectable losses against Michigan and Kansas. Things never stay bad for long for a team this good, though, and the Wildcats are 4-0 in conference play, albeit with an average margin of victory of less than 6 points.

Team Fingerprint

Guess who still likes to shoot a ton of threes? That's right, it's Villanova. They're shooting 35% from deep on the season and 37% in conference play. They're also shooting 56% from inside the arc, 26th in the nation. They're a hair above average in ball security, offensive rebounding, and free throw rate. All that adds up to the 11th-most efficient offense in the nation.

Also, they're 340th out of 353 teams in offensive tempo. They take their dang time.

Their defense has taken an uptick in conference play, where they're third in the league. They've been incredibly permissive at the arc; you can basically get any three you want to against them. They've been okay at forcing turnovers and defending the glass, but they've been incredible in keeping opponents off the line. You can get shots and convert them against Nova, but they're not going to give you any freebies in the process.

Players

Phil Booth Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Senior Class Junior
6'3" 194 Measurements 6'4", 194
18.2/3.7/3.7 Game line 12.6/2.9/5.4
0.463/0.407/0.785 Shooting line 0.37/0.273/0.688
When Phil Booth was a freshman, he guarded Dee Davis. That is how much of a fixture he is in this Villanova program. He has become the latest in the assembly line of guards Nova has produced who do a lot of little things well and never seem to miss. So far in conference play, Booth is averaging 22 points per game and shooting 49% from three. He also sports a 31.6 assist rate and a 10.7 turnover rate. Simply put, if Markus Howard was not defying logic with the numbers he put up, a case could easily be made that Booth is the best guard in the conference.
Collin Gillespie Shooting Guard Paul Scruggs
Junior Class Sophomore
6'3" 183 Measurements 6'3", 200
10.9/2.8/2.9 Game line 13.2/5.1/3.1
0.421/0.366/0.855 Shooting line 0.509/0.456/0.8
Gillespie does a lot of the dirty work for Villanova in the backcourt, but has been mired in a scoring slump in league play. He has still been getting plenty of minutes and doing his part by creating steals and grabbing boards, but only his recent 4-7 from deep against Creighton puts any kind of luster on his offensive numbers.
Saddiq Bey Small Forward Kyle Castlin
Freshman Class Senior
6'8" 220 Measurements 6'4", 193
7.8/4.6/1.1 Game line 4.9/3.1/0.7
0.444/0.315/0.655 Shooting line 0.439/0.231/0.686
Bey is an inside/outside player who, conveniently, has split his shot attempts exactly between inside and outside the arc so far this year. He scores a lot better from close range, where he has shown an ability to score the ball in the midrange that is probably going to make him hard to guard as he rounds out his game. He hits the offensive boards well, almost never distributes, and helps Nova make up for their lack of a starter over 6'8" with his rebounding.
Jermaine Samuels Power Forward Naji Marshall
Sophomore Class Sophomore
6'7" 220 Measurements 6'7", 222
5.4/4.1/0.6 Game line 13.2/7.5/3.2
0.455/0.289/0.6 Shooting line 0.398/0.203/0.725
Samuels came into the starting lineup last game, but is only averaging about 15 minutes a game so far. He has made the most of his conference minutes so far, and had one of his best outings of the season last game, going for 13/6/1 with a pair of blocks and a steal. He scores very efficiently, despite not being possessed of a good outside shot, but has gotten over 20 minutes in a game just once since December 8th.
Eric Paschall Center Zach Hankins
Senior Class Senior
6'8" 255 Measurements 6'11", 245
16.5/6.4/2.1 Game line 10.4/4.9/0.8
0.464/0.388/0.782 Shooting line 0.709/0/0.66
Villanova have ridden this guy for 153 minutes in their first four conference games and it is easy to see why. He is a voracious rebounder at both ends of the floor, can score from all three levels, rarely turns the ball over, and does a great job of getting to the line and converting. His block numbers are a bit down from last season, which has likely contributed to his foul numbers also being down and his minutes played going up. In summation, this guy is an athletic freak who can do it all on the basketball court.

Reserves

Villanova has a pair of guys coming off the bench who have started at various times throughout the season. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree is a more traditional big who kills it on the glass and blocks a lot of shots. He has been up and down, dominating against Florida State’s massive frontline, but only managing a 0/1/0 line in 10 minutes of time in the last two games. Also having been in and out of the lineup is grad transfer Joe Cremo, who is a sharpshooting guard that has yet to get it going in Big East play.

Freshman Jahvon Quinerly had been seeing roughly as much of the floor as most walk ons until the end of December when his season exploded into life with a strong game against UCONN. He sees at least double digit minutes a game since then, and has shown himself to be capable of spelling Booth or Gillespie. Also likely to feature is 6’9” beanpole Cole Swider, who is a streaky scorer and not really much else at this point in his career.

Three Questions

-Can Xavier hang on the arc? Nova is going to shoot a ton of threes and make a good number of them; that's a given. It's hard to stay in a game trading 2 for 3; Xavier needs to find a way to keep from coughing up a huge deficit from three-point range that they can't recover elsewhere.

-How much of the double big man lineup can Xavier run? Villanova has been getting crushed on the glass in Big East play, thanks largely to their lack of traditional big men. Xavier has a pair of them in Tyrique Jones and Zach Hankins. This is really a question of defense; if Coach Steele can find a way to keep both those guys on the floor without completely conceding the arc, it bodes well for X.

-How much of last week was Cintas? Xavier's best victory away from home is probably the neutral site win over an Illinois team that isn't lighting the world on fire. The Muskies looked like they could play with anyone the way they closed Georgetown and Butler, but both of those games were played in front of a raucous home crowd. It's going to be another animal altogether grabbing the road win Xavier desperately needs.

Three Keys

-Have Q at his best. This is a huge ask, but Xavier needs Quentin Goodin to come back and look like he never missed a beat. Q practiced a couple of times during the week, but his status is still very much up in the air. Against a Villanova team that can rip off a 9-0 run if you cough the ball up a couple times, X needs its best distributor on the court.

-Control the paint. Nova will probably have the beating of Xavier from behind the arc. The Muskies have to not only win the battle for points in the paint, but also clean the glass and stop Nova from getting their beloved jump stops in the lane. The land of the big men has to be securely Xavier's.

-Believe. It could be a very long evening if Villanova gets up big and breaks X early. The Musketeers have proven they're never out of a game at home; they need that same mindset heading into hostile territory. The smart money may be hammering Nova -11, but X isn't here to bet, they're just here to win.