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Xavier v. Villanova: Big East Semifinal Preview

Xavier survived Creighton and now set their sights on the reigning National Champions in their bid to keep their NCAA hopes alive.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Tournament-Xavier vs Creighton
We ride with Hanky.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Fino alla fine. In a massive day on the bubble, Georgetown, Creighton, and St. John’s took body blows not long after Providence and Butler saw themselves out. Texas and Indiana staggered and NC State spit the bit after staying with Virginia for a half. Xavier, though, just keeps rolling along. It wasn’t pretty, but a win over Creighton has given the Musketeers a huge opportunity. As always, Xavier is in until the end.

Great opportunities on the pointy end of the schedule don’t tend to come against weak teams, and this one is no exception. Waiting for Xavier in the semifinals is Villanova. The Wildcats weren’t at their best on Thursday and still brushed aside a Providence team desperate for a win. Nova considers, with good reason, this conference to be theirs and will hardly be in the mood to extend Xavier any favors.

Team fingerprint:

Instead of our usual breakdown of how the opponent plays offense and defense, we’re going to take a slightly more in depth look at each game these teams played this year. If you want more on tendencies, I can promise that whoever is at the switch on our Twitter feed tomorrow will be happy to give it you.

Villanova 85-75 Xavier

We didn’t know it at the time, but this was the start of a six game slide for X. The Musketeers scored relatively well at 1.15 points per possession, but couldn’t stop the Wildcats at all. Nova went on an 8-0 run with nine minutes to play that effectively ended the game as a contest. It didn’t pan out in this game, but Coach Steele began tinkering with the double post against Villanova. Nova spaced the floor against the bigs and casually shot 44% behind the arc and 57% inside it. That ended that experiment and Zach Hankins played 14 minutes and Kyle Castlin 30 as Xavier resorted to trying to match up guard for guard to no avail.

Xavier 66-54 Villanova

This glorious game was played at an absolute crawl. The first meeting featured 65 possessions, this one was yet five slower. Coach Steele realized that disrupting shooters was the way to go and ran Elias Harden out for 26 minutes, Zach Hankins for 25, and Tyrique Jones for 26. Xavier defended frenetically but focused especially on dominating defensively inside. The dirty secret to Nova’s recent success is that for all their three point shooting prowess, it’s their ability to convert at an incredible rate inside that tips games in their favor. In the last three years they have been third, second, and second in the nation on shooting inside the arc. Xavier’s length and athleticism forced the Wildcats to just 43.5% inside at Cintas.

Offensively expect that same attack from Nova. They’ll start outside and then space the floor and look for cutters and matchup posts. If Xavier is awake to that, they have the bodies to take that first look away. Jay Wright will have answers, but Nova is only shooting 33.2% behind the arc their last ten games.


Phil Booth Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Senior Class Junior
6'3", 194 Measurements 6'4", 194
18.6/3.9/3.9 Game line 11.3/3/4.7
43.4/36.6/75 Shooting line 37.3/30.6/68
As Booth goes, so goes Nova. He was absolutely incredible in January as they tore through the start of Big East play at 8-0, but since the calendar has flipped to February, he has been up and down and Villanova has played roughly .500 ball. On his day, he can score from all over the place, sets his teammates up at a high level, and takes care of the ball, but 13 points on 11 shots and 1 assist to 6 turnovers against Providence showed that at leas the first day at MSG was not his day.
Collin Gillespie Shooting Guard Paul Scruggs
Sophomore Class Sophomore
6'3" 183 Measurements 6'3", 200
11.3/2.5/2.8 Game line 12.2/4.8/3.2
41.7/38.3/84.3 Shooting line 47.6/40.5/76.2
Gillespie was a huge difference maker in both matchups between these teams in the regular season. At Nova, he went full Tre Campbell and shot Xavier straight out of the game. At Cintas, he scored 6 points and fouled out as he tried fruitlessly to stay in front of Paul Scruggs. He is 9 for his last 15 from three coming into this one, so Xavier will have to make sure not to lose him on the perimeter.
Jermaine Samuels Small Forward Naji Marshall
Sophomore Class Sophomore
6'7" 220 Measurements 6'7", 222
5.5/5.2/0.9 Game line 14.9/6.7/3.3
46.2/32.8/58.6 Shooting line 41.2/28.9/71.7
Samuels has done his best Justin Martin impression over the past two weeks, exploding for 29 to almost singlehandedly beat Marquette, and then proceeding to score 25 over the next three games. Classic J-Mart. One thing he does do consistently is play good defense and clean up on the glass, which is what keeps him in the lineup when the mood just isn't striking him to shoot.
Saddiq Bey Power Forward Tyrique Jones
Freshman Class Junior
6'8" 220 Measurements 6'9" 235
8.4/5.2/1.2 Game line 11.3/7.8/0.8
46.6/38.6/61 Shooting line 62.2/0/65
Bey has been incredibly efficient, if not overly assertive in conference play this season. He is 4th in the conference in three point shooting at 43% and can score it inside as well. He is very catch and shoot oriented, but when you shoot as well as he does, it is pretty obvious as to why.
Eric Paschall Center Zach Hankins
Senior Class Senior
6'8" 255 Measurements 6'11", 245
16.5/6.1/2.2 Game line 10.1/5.1/1
45.2/36/76.8 Shooting line 67.3/0/63.4
Paschall is a swiss army knife on the basketball court and Villanova has ridden him for the second most minutes in the conference. He faltered a bit toward the end of February, but absolutely dominated Providence with 20 and 10 in the Villanova's win.


Villanova gets little from their bench both in terms of minutes and production. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree is a swat happy big man who cleans the glass at both ends, scores when given the chance, and fouls everything in his vicinity. Joe Cremo is the second best grad transfer sharpshooter that will be playing in this game, having hit a massive slump in conference play. Cole Swider hit a couple of big shots against Providence, after having played 27 minutes in conference regular season play. Was Jay Wright sandbagging? I guess we will find out.

Three questions:

- How is Naji? There were moments against Creighton where Naji Marshall was unquestionably gassed. As a reflection of that, he only (?) played 35 minutes against the Jays. Xavier is going to need Naji at full go for close to 40 minutes to beat Nova.

- Can Tyrique help? Xavier’s mean-mugging center managed an offensive rating of 20 and a line of 0/5/0 in 13 minutes Thursday. In Xavier’s win over Nova, he had 6/8/0 in 26 minutes. Three of those rebounds kept Xavier possessions alive. Tyrique needs to shake off a bad game and come back ready to snarl his way across MSG.

- Who provides the spark? On Senior Night it was Ryan Welage, yesterday Kyle Castlin decided 2-3 behind the arc and a block sounded nice. To get by Villanova Xavier will likely need someone to find another level, be that a starter getting scalding hot, or someone off the bench rising to the occasion.

Three keys:

- Score in the paint: When Xavier beat Villanova they did so inside the arc. That didn’t necessarily mean with post after post, but with bigs catching the ball and guards cutting. Paul Scruggs, Q, and Naji Marshall combined to go 8-13 inside the arc that game. The bigs were also effective (7-11) in the post, but getting everyone involved near the rim is key.

- Challenge shooters: In that same win, Travis Steele deployed length to harass Villanova shooters and left Jones and Hankins on islands inside. The tactic worked as the Wildcats shot 27.8% behind the arc. It’s playing with fire to let Nova take 38 threes, but Xavier will hope that closing out hard again pays dividends.

- Care for the ball: Quentin Goodin didn’t turn the ball over against Creighton. In a well managed 36 minutes of play in an elimination game, he was rock solid. If Xavier’s turnover rate is 13.4% again tonight, the Musketeers will be in good shape.