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Xavier at Villanova: preview, matchups, keys to the game

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Xavier has a chance to set the tone for the conference season with a statement game right out of the gate.

NEVER FORGET.

In 125 minutes with Travis Steele as head coach, Xavier has scored 208 points and surrended 210. In just regulation, X has outscored Nova by 2 with Coach Steele at the helm. If one block is called correctly, Xavier may well be 2-1 against the defending champs.

Whatever spell Nova had on Xavier in the Chris Mack Era, it appears to have been broken by Coach Steele and his new-look Muskies. This isn't a team heading to Philly for their annual Villanova butt kicking; these guys are getting on the plane to go win a game.

Nova, as always, will present a stern challenge. They have two losses on the year, both to KenPom top 10 teams away from home. They've also got an impressive home win over Kansas and another top 100 W at a neutral site over Mississippi State. Their 9-2 record has been well-earned, and they'll also be looking to send a message today, namely that Butler is not the conference favorite just yet.

Team fingerprint

Where do you start with a Jay Wright team but offense? They're currently 8th in the nation, which is both good and a number Nova has bettered 4 times in the last 5 years. They move the ball well and take a ton of threes, and they're connecting at a better than 36% rate from behind the arc. They also shoot 55% from inside the arc (13th in the nation) and 77% from the line (25th). Their ball security is excellent and their offensive rebounding is a tick above average. Like most jump shooting teams, they don't get to the line a lot.

The defense has been not great. They seal off the glass well and don't foul, but they allow a lot of easy buckets and don't force turnovers, ranking below 200th nationally in defensive EFG% and TO rate. This is where the rubber meets the road for Wright. He coached 5 straight teams that were no worse than 12th in defensive efficiency; each of those teams landed a 1 or 2 seed, and two of them won it all. His two teams since then were last year's, which finished 81st, and this year's, which is 84th.

Personnel

This roster has 7 RSCI top-100 recruits on it, 8 if you count Eric Dixon, who has taken a developmental redshirt this year. The only two players expected to see meaningful minutes who aren't top-100 guys are Saddiq Bey and Collin Gillespie, the team's two leading scorers. This roster is loaded with talent.

Starters

Starting matchups
Collin Gillespie Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Junior Class Senior
6'3", 191 Measurements 6'4", 194
14.2/2.1/4.9 Game line 8.1/2.7/4
40.3/33.3/82.2 Shooting line 38.1/34.8/60
Cut out of the same annoying mold as Ryan Arcidiacono, Gillespie is a solid shooter, good distributor, stingy ball manager, and pesky defender. He's not going to blow you away with his athleticism, but he's got a knack for getting where he needs to be on the floor and keeping his teammates involved. Like pretty much every Nova player under Wright, he's adept at finding space on the floor for catch-and-shoot threes.
Jermaine Samuels Shooting Guard Paul Scruggs
Junior Class Junior
6'7", 222 Measurements 6'4", 196
9.9/5/2.1 Game line 14.8/4.3/2.3
46.3/30.2/64.7 Shooting line 50.7/33.3/83.3
You wouldn't qualify Samuels as a shooting guard based on his game, but he's the second shortest starter and the one who profiles the most like a two, so... yeah. He's a really good defender on and off the ball, and his length will give Paul Scruggs a tough way to go if that's how Nova matches up. He's not a high-usage guy, but he can score from the mid-range or around the rim consistently and has just enough range to keep you honest. He boards well for a wing.
Saddiq Bey Small Forward Naji Marshall
Sophomore Class Junior
6'8", 216 Measurements 6'7", 222
15.5/5.6/2.5 Game line 16.2/5.9/3.3
52.9/41.5/84.4 Shooting line 44.6/27.9/69.8
Of the 64 threes Saddiq Bey has made on his career, 64 have been catch-and-shoot. The next three he makes without an assist will be the first. He scores from deep or at the rim; he's only 5-25 on two-point jumpers this year. He doesn't turn the ball over, converts well from the line, and is the 26th-most efficient player in the nation according to KenPom. He's not a great offensive rebounder, but he leads the team with 12 putbacks (on only 19 OReb) on the year, so don't sleep on him on the glass.
Cole Swider Power Forward Jason Carter
Sophomore Class Junior
6'9", 219 Measurements 6'8", 227
9.5/3.9/1 Game line 7.4/5.3/1.8
56.5/47.8/80 Shooting line 40.7/30/85.7
With an ORtg of 143.7, Swider is the reason Saddiq Bey isn't the most efficient player on his own team. He's also the reason Nova has such a big starting lineup, forcing his way into the starting five at the expense of Justin Moore with his electric offensive play. He's not going to get to the line much; he just hangs around banging jumpers or slides to the rim to make layups. For what it's worth, he grades out as one of Nova's worst defensive players.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl Center Tyrique Jones
Freshman Class Senior
6'9", 232 Measurements 6'9", 239
11.8/9.6/2 Game line 13.4/10/1.4
46.1/30.8/84.8 Shooting line 52/0/60.3
Robinson-Earl is a one-level scorer who is trying to be a three-level threat. He's 34-47 at the rim (72.3%) and 13-55 (23.6%) on all jumpers. He's a really good rebounder on both ends of the floor and a great free throw shooter. Despite not blocking a lot of shots, he's a respectable defender on the post.

Reserves

Not actually that many, to be honest. Nova is 325th in the nation with 22.6% of their minutes coming off the bench. This is not a deep team.

The best bench piece is 6'4" freshman guard Justin Moore. He averages 12/3/2 and hits 39% of his threes. He started 6 games early in the season before Cole Swider forced his way into the lineup.

You'll probably also recognize the name of reserve big Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree. He was the 6th-most efficient offensive player in the nation and a dominant rebounder last year but hasn't been able to find minutes in a stacked frontcourt this season. Brandon Slater, a 6'7" sophomore wing, will provide some depth around the perimeter.

That's about it for the bench, unless freshman guard Bryan Antoine, a dynamic scorer who has struggled to get healthy all year, is fit to play.

Three questions

-What do the matchups look like? Collin Gillespie is 6'3", 191, a reasonable size for a guard. From there, nobody is Nova's starting lineup is shorter than 6'7" or lighter than 216. This is a huge set of players, and they can all present at least a credible threat from all three levels. This is a tough team to guard, full of tough individuals to guard.

-Can Xavier crack Nova's defense? I know Nova hasn't been producing super defensive stats this year, but one thing jumped out at me: Nova's opponents have shot 20-35 (57.1%) from deep in their two losses and 57-189 (30.1%) in their nine wins. There are obviously other factors in play and more ways to score the ball, but the two teams that have beaten Nova have been aided by scalding hot three-point shooting.

-Is it time for some Paul Scruggs magic? Scruggs had a clinical 14 on 7 shots in Xavier's win over Nova last year, then he practically played them on his own in the Big East tournament, going for 28/11/7 on just 14 shots and never coming off the court in the OT loss. He'll have work to do against Nova's length and he has been struggling for form a bit lately, but the counterpoint to that is that he's a tough competitor and really good at basketball.

Three keys

-Start solidly. Xavier has to in general avoid the lulls in play that have kept them from putting away wins and been the cause of both their losses, but it's especially vital that they don't start slowly and spend the rest of the game chasing. At Villanova is tough sledding in any scenario, but it's almost impossible to dig out of a hole there. Since X joined the league, Nova has lost just four league games at home; the largest deficit any BE team has overcome at Nova has been 11. This is not a team you can beat from behind at home.

-Keep Tyrique involved. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is Nova's biggest big man; he's a reasonable defender, but possess only modest credentials as a rim protector. Jermaine Samuels can throw some shots as a help defender, and the more help he's obligated to provide, the better things are going for Xavier. Villanova's forwards are very talented, but not many teams have a dog like Tyrique. He can put pressure on their frontcourt and tilt the balance of the game.

-Play to your identity. For years, Xavier's plan was to stand and watch shooters shoot threes, which Nova loved. This year, Xavier is the aggressor on the defensive side of the ball. There's no doubt this is a big game in a big environment; the first step to winning it is avoiding being cowed by the circumstances. X needs to come out swinging and stay on it all game.