Villanova withstood a late burst from Providence to book their appearance in the Big East title game, that was the way things had to be at MSG on Friday. Xavier looked as if they were also set for an easy win early, leading by nine at the half, the Musketeers' lead over Georgetown only increased as the second half got going. A late surge from the Hoyas had them within two points in the waning seconds of the game, however. X was able to hold on and eventually ended the game with a 65-63 victory.
The Wildcats won the two previous meetings with Xavier, winning 88-75 at the Pavilion in January, and 78-66 at Xavier's Cintas Center two weeks ago. If the 'Cats win, it would be their first conference tournament title since winning the old Big East tournament in 1995.
Matt Stainbrook can hang inside
He was held to just 8 points and 7 rebounds in the last meeting with the Wildcats, but he scored 17 in the Musketeers' first meeting with the Wildcats this year. Ochefu had his work cut out for him in both meetings and Stainbrook has proven that he's a go-to player throughout the Big East season.
Against Georgetown's behemoth Josh Smith, the Xavier center scored 20 points and grabbed 9 boards. Smith was allowed to score 10, but was a non-factor on the glass, accounting for just two rebounds. The Stain train can match up with all but the most elite big men, so he will continue to be a handful for Villanova to deal with -- forcing Daniel Ochefu to work hard to keep him from becoming a factor.
Watch out for Jalen Reynolds off the bench
For the Wildcats, Josh Hart is the secret weapon off the bench, but tomorrow expect that the Musketeers could have a a secret weapon of their own. Coming off the bench, Jalen Reynolds has led Xavier in scoring in both of their meetings with Villanova this season. The 'Cats will have to look out for the 6-9 forward when he tags in.
Especially when he shares the court with Stainbrook, it creates a mismatch against Villanova's commonly-used match-ups, forcing the undersized JayVaughn Pinkston or one of the bigger guards to try and cover him.
Xavier has won three straight close games
The Musketeers have won their last three and all were within two points at the end of regulation. Their Big East tournament opener with Butler went into overtime, and the Georgetown game easily could have ended up there as well. In the last two games in New York, they built up a lead early, only to end up winning close, or in overtime. Just as the Wildcats needed to hold on and execute at the end of their semifinal game, this Xavier team has had to do that for the last three games. They are either more ready than ever if they find another close one in the final, or they could be dead tired.
Villanova needs to prepare for the former and hope for the latter.