Every game is hugely important for Xavier right now. Reasonable people have given up on the idea of earning an at-large bid (for the record, I haven't), but Big East tournament seeding is up for grabs with five games left. Xavier also figures to have to beat at least one of Marquette and Nova to win the auto bid, and today's game is their last chance to prove beforehand that they can. At 14-13 (6-8), these Muskies still have it all to play for.
Villanova comes into this game a wounded bear. After starting conference play with 10 consecutive wins, they lost by 1 at Marquette, 6 at St. John's, and a dozen at Georgetown. Only a home win against hapless Providence has kept it from being four in a row the wrong way for them. Nova is a game back of Marquette for the Big East lead.
This game is pretty big for both teams, for wildly disparate reasons. You'd expect it to be hotly contested the whole way.
|Phil Booth||Point Guard||Quentin Goodin|
|6'3" 194||Measurements||6'4", 194|
|Booth is the Wildcats leading scorer, and one of the top guards in the conference, but there is no getting around the fact that he has been off his game this month. A 17:18 A:TO and a 9-43 mark from deep have drug down the efficiency of a player who is still averaging 18 PPG in that stretch.|
|Collin Gillespie||Shooting Guard||Paul Scruggs|
|6'3" 183||Measurements||6'3", 200|
|Gillespie killed X in the first meeting with 18 points on 6-10 from three. When he is hot, he take Nova from being a tough matchup to being impossible to guard, but he comes into this one 4 of his last 25 from downtown, which has coincided with a 1-3 stretch for the team.|
|Jermaine Samuels||Small Forward||Naji Marshall|
|6'7" 220||Measurements||6'7", 222|
|Samuels is currently second in the Big East in ORtg, but that is likely down to his minuscule usage rate of 11.7. He is a borderline elite rebounder and blocks a lot of shots because of his incredible wingspan, but he has shot the ball once in the his last 39 minutes of basketball, which greatly limits his actual effectiveness.|
|Saddiq Bey||Power Forward||Tyrique Jones|
|6'8", 220||Measurements||6'9" 235|
|Bey was kept to 3 points in the first meeting, but has gone for double digits in 6 of his 9 games since then. He likes to find chances to spot up, but also crashes the offensive glass really well and has come on in his distribution as the season has progressed.|
|Eric Paschall||Center||Zach Hankins|
|6'8" 255||Measurements||6'11", 245|
|Paschall has been tremendous for Nova in basically all aspects of the game this season, except for offensive rebounding. He will likely play a vast majority if not all of the game, sometimes playing more of the 5 with Bey or moving to the perimeter with Cosby-Roundtree.|
Villanova is well below average in terms of bench involvement, ranking 297th in the nation in bench minutes. The biggest contributor in that area is Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, who is big and uses his size and length to great effect in both rebounding and blocking shots. He is prone to foul trouble, but torched Providence for 12 and 7 in just 17 minutes a couple of weeks ago. The other major contributor is grad transfer Joe Cremo, who has struggled to find his feet after a stellar three seasons at Albany. He is mostly a spot up shooter and he put 14 on St. John’s behind 4-7 from deep two games ago.
-Is Paul Scruggs slumping or out of gas? It has been since January since Scruggs was really making hay on the offensive end. He has 22 points in 5 games in February and has posted an ORtg over 83 just once. Xavier could sure use Best Paul today and indeed the rest of the way.
-Will Nova press? Xavier has passed to the other team like they just learned about the concept of sharing and are too excited about it right now. Nova is 7th in the league in forcing turnovers, but it can't have escaped Jay Wright's notice that X handled the last press they saw so poorly that they turned a 16-point lead into a last second win. With Nova in a bit of a slide, maybe this is the wrinkle Wright uses to wake things up a bit.
-How does Xavier defend ball screens? The Nova offense was so effective in isolating Xavier's big men on the perimeter that Zach Hankins, who was 6-8 from the floor and feasting on offense, only got 14 minutes because he kept getting rinsed on the perimeter. Coach Steele said Hanky has improved and the team defense has some things prepared. Hopefully that's the case.
-Win on the glass. Xavier had it within touching distance with 10 minutes to play at Nova, but the Wildcats took over the offensive boards and hit some back breaking second chance threes to seal the game. Forty minutes of dominance on the glass would be a huge boost for Xavier.
-Check the arc. This is always the thing with Nova, right? They're 5th in the league in 3P% but still first in percentage of points scored from behind the arc. They're efficient from inside the arc, but everything they do is predicated on their ability to hit threes. The Muskies have to be there on the catch all night.
-Finish. Xavier has unquestionably left some on the table this year, but they've also graced us with a couple of really great closing stretches. Nova ran away late at their place, and you might recall that X has accounted for just 2 of the last 19 points scored in one of their games. The firepower to stay close for 30 minutes is there; the last 10 minutes will come down to the Muskies keeping their heads and executing in front of a raucous home crowd.