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

Xavier sets out on Saturday to do something they have never done: win a Big East game at Villanova.

Villanova v Georgetown Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Ever since Xavier joined the Big East there has been one serious problem they have faced: they cannot beat Villanova. In the last ten games against the Wildcats, the Musketeers are 1-9. They have beaten Nova once at home, never on the road. Something about the home court, wherever it may be, of Villanova makes Xavier essentially weak. They’ve given it a run a couple times, but never quite managed to get it done. Far more often they get hammered spectactularly.

The one constant in all that has been Jay Wright, the dominant force in the Big East since realignment. He is gone now. In his place is Kyle Neptune, a head coach with exactly 47 games of DI coaching experience. Last season his Fordham team went 16-16. Than, and being Wright’s acolyte, was enough to land him one of the premier jobs in the nation. Since his arrival in Philadelphia, the Wildcats are 8-7.

8-7 is actually an improvement from Nova’s 2-5 start to the year. Losses to Temple and Portland have doomed Villanova to trying to claw their way back on to the bubble. They were doing well with that until back to back losses to UConn and Marquette sent them back to .500 before they got right against Georgetown.

Team Fingerprint

On offense Nova is still dangerous. While they don’t shoot as well from behind the arc as they used to, they’re actually down to 33.7% on the year, they are tops in the nation from the line and still very effective. They also hardly turn the ball over at all. They will slow the game to glacial pace, try to get a good look, preferably from three where they take 50% of their shots, and then not bother trying to rebound it.

Defensively Villanova is not very good. They are 104th in the nation in defensive efficiency because they allow a decent rate of three point makes and allow the ball to move very well and teams to get an inordinate amount of outside looks. They don’t turn teams over or block shots well, and they’re mediocre on the glass. The only thing the Nova really does well is limit access to the line.



Caleb Daniels Point Guard Souley Boum
Senior Class Senior
6'4", 210 Measurements 6'3", 175
16.3/5.1/3.3 Game line 16.9/3.9/4.6
43.2/35.7/83.1 Shooting line 50.3/46.9/85.5
Daniels has been Nova's most consistent guard this season and has been asked to do a lot to fill the gap left by Justin Moore's absence. He shoots well enough to make opponents account for him, takes care of the ball, and is the team's best presence on the defensive glass. His only struggle this year has been with foul trouble: he fouled out against Portland and has accumulated 4 in 4 of the past 5 games so far, which isn't a huge flaw, but isn't ideal for a primary ballhandler.
Chris Arcidiacono Shooting Guard Adam Kunkel
Senior Class Senior
6'4",205 Measurements 6'4", 185
4.9/3.5/2.4 Game line 9.8/1.8/2.3
39.6/41.7/87 Shooting line 45.7/37.9/76.9
It is not abundantly clear that the rest of the team realizes Chris is on the floor when they get to the offensive end, such is his usage rate. He has shot on just 5% of possessions he is on the floor for in BE play. He is Villanova's best three point shooter by percentage, although he is 7th on the team in attempts in conference play.
Brandon Slater Small Forward Colby Jones
Senior Class Junior
6'8", 220 Measurements 6'6", 205
11.6/5.3/1.5 Game line 14.3/5.2/5.6
42.9/33.3/92.2 Shooting line 50.4/45/78.6
Slater does a little bit of everything, and does most of it pretty well. He can rebound, he does a decent job of blocking shots, he scores from inside the are well and outside of it ok, and he doesn't turn the ball over very much. His only real standout skill is his ability to get to the line and the fact he is basically automatic once he gets there.
Cam Whitmore Power Forward Zach Freemantle
Freshman Class Senior
6'7", 232 Measurements 6'9", 225
11.3/6.1/0.6 Game line 14.4/7.8/3.1
44.7/26.7/82.4 Shooting line 58.9/60/68.1
Whitmore runs hot and cold as many freshmen tend to do. He has had some standout performances, but has been pretty bad since conference play began and takes up a ton of possessions without producing enough to justify his usage. All that being said, he is a high ceiling player who is 8 games into his college career and is bound to figure it out sooner or later. Any time after February 21st works for me.
Eric Dixon Center Jack Nunge
Junior Class Junior
6'8", 255 Measurements 7'0" 245
15.6/6.4/1.5 Game line 15.2/7.5/1.9
49.4/38.3/81.4 Shooting line 54.5/42.9/67.7
Dixon is not the type of bruising center that defined the early days of the Big East, but he fits in the with the skilled bigs who are in vogue in the conference now. He is willing to step out and shoot from deep and is second on the team in both percentage and makes from three. He is more active on the offensive glass than the defensive and does a good job of keeping himself on the floor and out of foul trouble.


First and foremost will be the status of guard Jordan Longino, who was getting more than 20 minutes per game off the bench until he was carried off against Georgetown and did not return. He is capable of getting hot and providing a huge spark for Villanova or getting sloppy and providing one for their opponents. Speaking of turnovers, backup point guard Mark Armstrong does not commit them. His shooting from everywhere but the line is a work in progress, but he has shown a steady hand early to get himself into the conference rotation. The only other player who has appeared off the bench in conference play is spot up shooter Brendan Hausen, who introduced himself to DI with a 5-8 performance from deep against Oregon, but has not scored since December 17th.

Three questions:

- Can Adam Kunkel get right? Xavier’s dynamo hasn’t been doing terribly well since his concussion. Nova tends to give up the kind of catch and shoot threes on which Kunk is so effective. If he can get going and open up the paint, this is a vastly different game. It also means Xavier’s rotation wouldn’t become even shorter.

- How much impact will Cam Whitmore have? Whitmore will use the ball more than any other Nova player. How well remains to be seen. The freshman has been excellent on the glass, but hit and miss on offense. He had 21 and 19 against Penn and Boston College, then went for 14/8/3 against Marquette. He also had a 23 minute 6/3/0 against UConn. Xavier stifling him is a big part of shifting the offensive burden elsewhere.

- Who wins the tempo battle? Xavier wants to go really fast, Villanova wants to go really slow. The teams are separated by 318 spots in terms of tempo. Their styles could hardly be different. The Musketeers would love nothing more than to get the possessions up into the 70s and make Nova try to keep up. Villanova will try to slow it way down, limit possessions, and grind out an efficient win.

Three Keys

  • Win the turnover battle- Xavier isn’t a team forces a lot of turnovers or is particularly proficient at avoiding them themselves, and yet Villanova’s downfall in both their Big East losses has been their opponents getting the better of them in the turnover department. Villanova is not a team that creates a ton of extra possessions for themselves on the offensive glass, so if their opponent can create some off turnovers they struggle to overcome it.
  • Hope the ghosts of butt kicking past stays dormant- Villanova has shot over 70% from three at home against Xavier since Xavier joined the Big East. Ok, they haven’t, but they have frequently feasted on Xavier’s packline in a series of non-competitive tilts. This year’s Nova team scores almost 40% of their points from deep, but they haven’t put on the types of clinical performances that defined the elite teams of the mid 2010’s. Xavier is exceptional at defending inside the arc and if this Villanova team once again fails to produce the kind of shooting performance that their predecessors did, Xavier’s advantage in the paint should tell.
  • Push the pace-it can’t be said enough how much it plays into Villanova’s advantage if the game is played at a lower tempo. They were able to hold Marquette at 62 possessions and very nearly pulled the upset because of it. Xavier is a team that can thrive without a set offense and Villanove is yet to show they can.