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

Xavier dropped the road leg of this matchup by 6. A lot has changed since then, but what hasn't is that X could use a huge win and this would certainly qualify.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Villanova
Just this like 65 times for our defense, please.
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

This is a big game.

This is a big game for Villanova, as they look to win at least a share of the Big East title for the sixth time in the last seven seasons. They're 9-4 now, two games behind front-runner Seton Hall with 5 games to play. They lost to the Hall at home on February 8 and have to travel to South Orange* for their penultimate game of the season. That's going to be a tough gap to close, and every result matters.

This is a big game for Xavier. They've scrambled back onto the right side of the bubble with another late season surge led by three weeks of top-10 level defense. The Muskies have a tough closing stretch, but it's rife with opportunities to put the final layer of polish on their tournament resume. They're also one of four teams within a game and a half of one another in the Big East standings, all trying to avoid being the lone representative of that group stuck playing on Wednesday in the conference tournament.

Team fingerprint

Villanova's offense is the same as it ever was. They bury you under an avalanche of three-point attempts - 46% of their total shots, 23rd in the nation - and hit almost 37% of them. They don't get to the glass or the line much, but they don't turn it over and they lift like they get a point and a half just for the attempt. Defending Nova begins with turning it into a game of twos.

On defense, Nova's profile is basically the exact opposite of their offense. They are below the middle of the league in defensive EFG% and turnover rate, but they absolutely smother the glass and never put opponents on the line, probably because the ref calls it a charge any time Collin Gillespie is in the area. They do a good job of running opponents off the line and making it an iso game. No team in the league blocks fewer shots.

Personnel

Starters

Starting matchups
Collin Gillespie Point Guard Paul Scruggs
Junior Class Junior
6'3", 191 Measurements 6'4", 196
16.2/3.7/4.5 Game line 12.9/4.5/2.7
42.7/38.1/81.8 Shooting line 46.6/35/70.5
Nova starts here. Gillespie does everything other than offensive rebound and block shots. He uses the ball the most of anyone on the team and he uses it extremely well. He's only had an offensive efficiency under 100 three times this year. Villanova lost them all.
Justin Moore Shooting Guard Naji Marshall
Freshman Class Junior
6'4", 210 Measurements 6'7", 222
10.8/2.7/1.9 Game line 16.2/5.9/3.7
40.6/39.7/78.3 Shooting line 43.5/30.7/69.6
Moore is held back a little by how poorly (41%) inside the arc, but he's a legit threat from deep and he can put up numbers in bunches when he gets hot.
Jermaine Samuels Small Forward Jason Carter
Junior Class Junior
6'7", 222 Measurements 6'8", 227
10.5/5.2/1.9 Game line 6.7/5.2/1.4
46.8/29.5/73.4 Shooting line 38.7/23.9/73.8
Samuels is one of the rare forwards in the Big East who won't be cowed by Xavier's big lineup. Samuels is excellent inside the arc, rebounds well, and is competent from deep.
Saddiq Bey Power Forward Zach Freemantle
Sophomore Class Freshman
6'8", 216 Measurements 6'9", 225
15.6/5/2.6 Game line 7/3.9/0.4
47.4/46.4/77.6 Shooting line 48.9/40/78.3
Bey is an efficient scorer from anywhere on the floor, but he's a killer from deep. Lose him at your own peril. Look for Xavier to throw different defensive looks at him and heavily feature Naji Marshall.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl Center Tyrique Jones
Freshman Class Senior
6'9", 232 Measurements 6'9", 239
10.9/9.3/2 Game line 13.7/11.1/1.5
44.8/30.8/82.1 Shooting line 55.6/0/59.3
JRE is a glass eating big who can also step out and shoot it. The burden of stopping Tyrique Jones' one man rebounding rampage will fall largely on him.

Reserves

Only eight teams in the nation get fewer minutes from their bench than Villanova. Jay Wright likes his starters, and he leans on them for almost 80% of the minutes. 6-9 forward Cole Swider is the major piece off the bench because he can shoot it from deep and is stellar inside the arc. The only other player to get double digit minutes off the bench is forward Brandon Slater, who barely uses the ball at all and has taken 49 shots in 26 games. No one else plays more than ten minutes or averages more than two points. This is not a deep team.

Three questions

-Who guards Collin Gillespie? Gillespie pulls the strings for the Nova offense, often being the guy who gets the ball into the middle before it whips around the perimeter to someone who's going to chuck a three. He had an inefficient 24 to lead all scorers in the first meeting between these two teams. Like X, Nova goes with a really big starting lineup, so Paul Scruggs is the logical matchup to begin with, but don't be surprised to see Naji out there trying to jam him up a bit.

- Can Tyrique keep rolling? DePaul’s bigs should have presented a problem. They didn’t. Nate Watson from Providence should have been an issue. Jason Carter punched on him twice. Still, Nova is Nova and Nova has size that is active and strong. Bey, Robinson-Earl, and Samuels are all going to take their crack at keeping Jones off the glass. If they can’t, Xavier is right in this game.

- Can X avoid the run? Xavier loses to Villanova when they allow Nova’s shooters to string together a couple of big shots and suddenly rip off a 10-0 (or 17-0) run. If Xavier can avoid that, they can easily when this game. Even after surrendering that massive run to start the first meeting this year, X battled back and found themselves in a two possession game in the last minute. Avoiding that means taking care of the ball, though, and the Musketeers struggled with that the last time out.

Three keys:

- Care for the ball: Xavier will not win this game if they turn the ball over 22 times. You can get away with that against St. John’s, you would be lucky to lose by 20 if you do it against Villanova. Opponents that turn it over more than 18% of the time against the Wildcats are 1-11 this year. Xavier’s season rate is 19.4%.

- Be active on defense: There can be no defensive lapses against Nova. Against Butler X only had to watch Sean McDermott and still let him get off six three point attempts. Against Nova, the ball will move more quickly and it isn’t just one person that can beat you from deep. If Naji Marshall is on Collin Gillespie, it is incumbent on a big to not let Saddiq Bey get free. If Naji is on Bey. it’s incumbent on the guards to not let Gillespie work inside out to get free. These guys are a nightmare matchup, only 40 minutes of focused defense beats them.

- Throw some punches: All too often Xavier gets rocked on their heels by hammers from Villanova. To beat them, X has to have some big moments of their own. Tyrique Jones has provided them in abundance of late, but watch for KyKy Tandy. The kid is fearless and always in attack mode. The chance for a huge win at home may be what it takes for his first signature moment in the Running Man.

For more on what this weekend means across the conference, have a listen to Bry and Braydan break down the Big East.