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Xavier @ Villanova: Preview, matchups, and keys to the game

Xavier is finally back on the hardwood with both a test and an opportunity.

ULCA v Villanova
Poseidon may not be going the way of Atlantis after all
Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Remember back before Christmas? It seems like a long time ago now, given the craziness that accompanies the holidays, but it hasn’t been so long since Xavier was hammering Seton Hall. The Musketeers desperately needed that win. It bumped them to 44th on KenPom and, probably more importantly, back up to 61st on the NET. That’s not great, but it leaves Xavier with a chance to get in the conversation come Selection Sunday.

Villanova is more than in the conversation. The Wildcats skidded into December, but then beat UCLA, Creighton, and DePaul. Toss in wins over Texas Tech, Memphis, and North Carolina and you have a pretty impressive resume. For Xavier, this is a first crack at redeeming a bad non-con by grabbing a Q1 conference win to start things off. For Nova, it’s a chance not to stumble.

Team fingerprint

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Villanova plays slowly. They play slowly on offense, they want you to play slowly on offense, they probably wish timeouts had an extra five or ten seconds on them. The new extra media timeout? Nova loves it. Anything to prevent someone from actually running on the basketball court. It’s like a team of lifeguards at your local pool.

On offense Nova still shoots a lot of threes and moves the ball safely to facilitate that. The A/FGM is way down from the Jay Wright days, but the team still doesn’t turn the ball over. Their shooting isn’t great, but they won’t shoot themselves in the foot getting to that point. They also won’t grab many of their misses. They shoot threes and they are nails at the line.

Defensively is where this team shines. Their opponent has scored more than one point per possession just three times in 13 games this season. Nova won one of those. They absolutely clamp down defensively, allowing limited scoring inside the arc and denying offensive rebounds almost completely. They don’t really generate turnovers, content to make you miss and then grab it.

Players

Starters

Starting matchups
Mark Armstrong Point Guard Dayvion McKnight
Sophomore Class Senior
6'2", 180 Measurements 6'0", 188
6.6/1.6/1.4 Game line 9.5/4.6/5.4
42.5/25/76 Shooting line 41.9/30.8/81.8
After years of being a commercail for the beautiful game under Jay Wright, it's weird to see a Nova team without a single player with an assist rate of even 20%. Armstrong has had some ball security issues and isn't a great shooter, but someone has to bring the ball up and he's the guy. He is a good defender, which isn't nothing, but he has a lot of developmental room between his current production and his ceiling.
Jordan Longino Shooting Guard Quincy Olivari
Junior Class Senior
6'5", 215 Measurements 6'3", 200
9.3/3.1/2.1 Game line 18.2/4.5/1.9
43.2/31.9/85.7 Shooting line 47.7/43.7/78.3
Longino is an excellent defender whose offensive role has expanded every year he has been at Villanova. The Wildcats are 1-5 in the last 6 games in which Longino has gone for double figures, so... sneaky key to the game? He's a great free-throw shooter in moderate volume and does a lot of things fairly well without jumping off the page in any column. He's a good complementary player.
TJ Bamba Small Forward Desmond Claude
Senior Class Sophomore
6'5", 215 Measurements 6'6", 203
8.5/3.9/2.1 Game line 15.1/4.9/3.8
32.7/32.7/83.3 Shooting line 43.5/23.3/70.8
Bamba shot the eyes out of the ball in huge volume at Washington State last year; this year his usage rate is down 6 points and his EFG% is down 9; he just hasn't found his stride at all so far. He can get hot and put up a bunch of points, but he can also be a complete no-show, like he was in scoring 0 points in an OT loss at Creighton.
Tyler Burton Power Forward Lazar Djokovic
Senior Class Freshman
6'7", 215 Measurements 6'10", 220
9.4/8.1/0.9 Game line 3.3/3/0.7
38.8/33.3/71.4 Shooting line 32.3/27.3/47.6
An absolute machine on the glass. He is solid on the offensive end and absolutely dominant on the defensive. He's not an efficient shooter at any level, but he defends well and doesn't turn the ball over. Couple that with his work on the glass and he's a massively important player for Nova.
Eric Dixon Center Abou Ousmane
Senior Class Senior
6'8", 255 Measurements 6'10", 240
14.9/6.5/1.4 Game line 8.4/6.5/1
48.2/37.5/84 Shooting line 51.1/0/50
This frickin' guy. He's a strong scorer at three levels who shoots almost 70% at the rim. He is a good but not great rebounder at both ends and a solid defender who stays out of foul trouble. He's also a machine at the free throw line. If you've watched Xavier the last four years, you know what he has. He's built like a brick outhouse, gets all the calls, and has a sophisticated offensive game. I can't wait for him to graduate.

Reserves

Guard Justin Moore is averaging 13.3/3.5/2.2 in 28 minutes per game, but he has missed the last three games through a knee sprain. If he’s good to go, that’s obviously a big addition for Villanova, but all signs point to his being out again.

That thins the bench to three, one of whom is ultra-efficient big man Hakim Hart. A Maryland transfer, he’s averaging 7.8/3.9/1.2 on a cool 50/41.7/89.5 shooting. Of his 70 shots this season, 66 have been at the rim or behind the arc. He’s mostly a catch-and-shoot guy from deep, but he’s a good slasher if pressed. He’s perplexingly passive on offense, but he dropped 20 on DePaul last time out.

Sophomore Brendan Housen provides guard depth, mostly at the 2. He has taken 134 shots in his college career and 124 of them have been threes. This year he’s averaging 5/1.3/0.5 and shooting 34% from behind the arc, which is basically his only contribution.

Senior post Lance Ware has played in all but one of the Wildcats’ games and provides the deepest depth. He has 14 points in total, but he’s a good defensive reobunder and gives Kyle Neptune 5 fouls to burn while Eric Dixon catches his breath.

Three questions:

- Can Xavier get some offensive rebounds? Xavier isn’t a great shooting team, but they’ve grabbed 40% of their misses in each of the last two games. Nova is relentless on the defensive glass. Something is going to have to give. It’s unlikely X starts just making everything, so they need to get on the glass early and often.

- Who is that second option? Against Seton Hall both Abou Ousmane (after a rough start) and Dayvion McKnight scored in double figures. Excepting those two and Quincy Olivari, the rest of the team combined for 14 points. Maybe that works tonight, but it would be nice to see another consistent option emerge.

- What is going on with Des Claude? Des is 5-18 from the floor over the last two games and has seen his offensive efficiency drop to 104. That’s not terrible by any stretch, but it’s not the star turn that some fans were expecting. Des is best going downhill to the rim, where he’s devastating. He needs to do that tonight.

Three keys:

- Take care of the ball: Nova doesn’t really want to force turnovers, so Xavier won’t be under the pressure they were in the last couple games. X is 6-2 when they keep the turnover rate under 20%. Do that tonight and this game becomes a lot more winnable.

- Stretch the defense: Villanova is really good defending inside and less great at defending the arc. You may recognize this as a problem for Xavier. The Musketeers have to make some threes tonight. Whether that’s Olivari making eight or spreading the wealth, it has to happen.

- Push the pace: The Wildcats want it to be slow. Xavier plays very fast. Make these guys uncomfortable and there’s a chance to grab a huge Q1 win.