After stumbling and eventually recovering against two of the best defensive teams in the Big East, Seton Hall and St. John's, Villanova will face an entirely new breed of competition in the Pavilion on Wednesday night. The Xavier Musketeers (11-5, 2-2), sporting one of the best offenses in country, have had an up-and-down season to date. While they boast wins over an upstart Alabama team and conference heavyweights Seton Hall and Georgetown, Xavier also suffered defeats at the hands of UTEP, Long Beach State, and Depaul (RIP sole possession of first place).
Instead of a game-plan oriented around controlling tempo and playing pressure defense, the Musketeers will look run up the score against the Wildcats. By nearly every significant offensive metric, they rank among the best in the country. Xavier scores 79.0 points per contest, good for 19th out of the 351 eligible teams. But it's not a fast paced style that drives the Musketeers' offense; Kenpom scores their tempo at 108th. Instead, Xavier relies on efficient, open looks to get the job done. In fact, Chris Mack's team dishes out a generous 17.1 assists per game.
So how will Jay Wright and his Wildcats slow down this offensive juggernaut? Let's take a quick look at three considerations for Wednesday night's conference duel.
Muscle Up on Matt Stainbrook
Since arriving on Xavier's campus after he transferred from Western Michigan, Matt Stainbrook has evolved from a low-major project into a nightly double-double threat. In fact, the rec-spec wearing, Uber driving, Santa Claus starring senior dropped 14 points and 11 rebounds against Villanova last season. He's increased his level of play even more this season, averaging 12.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per contest.
While not blessed with superb athleticism, Stainbrook utilizes his wide frame to bully his way towards the basket. Once there, he can connect on a jump hook over either shoulder with relative ease; Stainbrook leads his team with a 65% field goal percentage. Bringing over an extra defender isn't a wise strategy, however. The center parlays his 6'10" height and excellent vision into 2.1 assists per game, a mark that ties him for second on the Musketeers.
This a game where Villanova will need some of Daniel Ochefu's best. While Chris Obekpa, Nnanna Egwu, and Rakeem Christmas have all challenged the Wildcats' center, Stainbrook represents an entirely different offensive match-up. Ochefu, or whoever has been switched on over the course of the possession, must work to keep Stainbrook out of the deep paint. While it is unlikely that Villanova will be able to shut him down entirely, forcing the senior into shots outside his range will go a long way in muzzling the Musketeers.
Contain Dribble Penetration
Normally when I look for the Wildcats to put extra effort into keeping opposing dribblers out of the lane, it is out of fear of kicking to an open three-point shooter. But with Xavier, dribble penetration often leads to easy passes and shots around the basket. In fact, only 32.2% of the Musketeers shots come from outside the arc; Villanova, for comparison, shoots 38.1% of their field goals from downtown. That's not to say they cannot shoot. Trevon Bluiett, Remy Abell, and Myles Davis all sport three-point percentages above 35%. As a team, Xavier shoots 37.5%.
What this reliance on shots inside the arc does say, however, is that the Musketeers are especially effective with their shot selection. Senior point guard Dee Davis dishes out 5.6 assists per game. Star freshman Trevon Bluiett leverages a balance of power and agility to blow past bigger defenders and shoot over smaller ones. Stainbrook is a load around the rim. This is a deep, offensively talented team. Take a look at their teams stats and you'll begin to see a lot of similarity with Villanova's.
Xavier offers an impressive trove of offensive weapons. The Wildcats defensive rotations must be on point in containing deep drives to the basket and recovering on shooters.
Attack the Basket
What keeps the Musketeers from the standard of an elite team, however, is the lack of a top-notch defense. In their losses, Xavier's opponents have recorded final scores of 77,73, 89, 71, and 88 for an average of 79.6 points per contest. They rank 122nd within Kenpom adjusted defensive efficiency rankings.
Part of their struggles stem from the lack of an imposing rim protector. While Stainbrook offers the size to intimidate down low, his lack of leaping ability often results in an easy trip to the basket for opponents. As a team, the Musketeers only block around three shots per game, good for 8th in the Big East and 202nd nationally. Villanova must do their best to attack the rim whenever possible, perhaps neutralizing Stainbrook due to foul trouble along the way.