After a disappointing loss to Top 5 Virginia in Charlottesville, the Wildcats came out and dominated both Delaware and Penn in the Pavilion. Non-conference play is now behind them (except for the highly anticipated matchup with Temple on February 17th on ESPN2) and 'Nova begins what looks to be a daunting Big East slate of games.
The Big East is wasting no time matching up their top teams, as Villanova will host Xavier and Providence will travel to Hinkle Fieldhouse for a New Year's Eve showcase of sorts. The Musketeers have been exceptional this year, going 12-0 to this point and earning their #6 ranking.
Xavier is also 4-0 against Top 50 KenPom teams, defeating Dayton and USC at a neutral site, Michigan in Ann Arbor, and Cincinnati at home. Coming to the Pavilion, which will hopefully be loud, will most likely be the Musketeers' toughest test yet.
Here are 3 things to watch during the Big East curtain raiser.
Beware of the Bigs
The pair of 6'10" forwards Jalen Reynolds and James Farr are easily the most talked about players for Xavier, and the frontline duo may be the best in the Big East. And that's for good reason - they have been dominant this season. Along with 6'10" forward Sean O'Mara, the trio combines to lead Xavier to 42.8 rebounds a game, good for 45th in the country (according to sports-reference.com).
Individually, James Farr has an offensive rebounding percentage of 18.4, which is 7th in the country and a defensive rebounding percentage of 29.2, 14th in the country (per KenPom). Jalen Reynolds is pretty dominant himself, grabbing 15.0% of available O-rebounds and 20.7% of defensive boards.
The Wildcats are 185th in the country in total rebounds, which is certainly not bad especially given the roster, but it will be tough for them to match up with Xavier. Daniel Ochefu or Darryl Reynolds won't have to face both of them very often however, as Reynolds and Farr rarely see the floor together.
It's certainly possible Xavier coach Chris Mack will try to play them together more to take advantage of the Wildcats' lack of height, but given their history of struggling to contain the guard-oriented attack that Jay Wright employs, it would be a bold move.
Xavier's guards are good too
Coming into the season the Musketeers biggest question was the point guard position. 6'6" redshirt freshman Edmond Sumner has answered the bell and looks to be a star in the making. After playing six games last season before being forced to sit out due to medical reasons, Sumner has shined as the lead guard for the Musketeers.
Playing 25.6 minutes a game, Sumner is averaging 11.7 points, 3.3 assists, and 3.4 rebounds a game while shooting 38.7% from deep. He also gets to the line six times a game, but is only shooting 68.5% from there, a bit odd given his success from deep. 6'5" guard J.P. Macura and 6'2" guard Myles Davis have also done a very good job backing up Sumner and playing the 2, respectively.
Davis is shooting 38.5% from 3 and is averaging 10.9 points and 3.4 rebounds. Macura is scoring 8.9 points and is averaging 2.2 assists per game.
Trevon Bluiett is Xavier's version of Josh Hart
Bluiett is listed as a 6'6" guard but you'll often see him at the four next to Jalen Reynolds or Farr (Hey, Xavier can go small too!). He might often have a disadvantage in height, but he still grabs 7.7 rebounds a game and scores 14.7 points per game, which leads the team. He is also a phenomenal shooter from deep, hitting 44.9 % of his 3's.
Josh Hart will likely often be on Bluiett which will be a very interesting matchup. They are 2 or 3 guards who often play the 4 and are undersized when they do, but both are hard-nosed and terrific rebounders, especially for their size. Jay Wright said Kris Jenkins may not be able to start, - so expect Phil Booth to take his place - but a heavy dose of Mikal Bridges may be just what the 'Cats need to slow down Bluiett.
'Nova has been battle tested facing 3rd ranked Oklahoma at a neutral site and traveling to 5th ranked Virginia. Perhaps the third time will be the charm against a Top 10 opponent, now that they get the Musketeers in the cozy confines of the Pavilion.