This weekend your #2 Villanova Wildcats head to Cincinnati to face the #24 Xavier Musketeers in a game where Xavier will desperately be looking for the marquee win that's eluded them all season. Your #1 (#2 in AP) VUhoops contributor will also be in Cincinnati this weekend so please shoot me a message if you will be partaking in the gameday fun.
That being said, here are three things to look for as the 'Cats try to outduel the Muskies
Xavier's loss to Villanova earlier this season was the first of three straight losses for the Muskies against the tournament-caliber class of the Big East: 'Nova (away), Butler (away), and Creighton (home). Following that skid, Xavier went 4-1 including 3 straight by a combined margin of 9 points including a 2-point victory over Creighton in Omaha. In sum, the Muskies, who were ranked #8 in the preseason, have been streaky and, considering the lofty expectations for this season, they have underperformed.
While they currently sit at 17-6 and are a relative lock for March (currently a 6 seed), they've struggled against good teams: suffering a 15-point loss to Baylor, and they've laid eggs against horrible teams: enter a mystifying 2-point loss to Colorado (who is 10th in the PAC-12). They've beaten Northern Iowa twice, who, unfortunately for Xavier, is having a down year, and Xavier's best win of the season appears to be last week's road victory against a struggling Creighton squad.
Xavier is running out of chances this year to secure an impressive win. They've lost to every Top 25 team they've played save for a free-falling Creighton team. After 'Nova leaves town, Xavier will welcome #22 Butler at the end of the month in what will be their last chance to lock up an impressive win before looking for blood in the Big East Tournament.
Next Musketeer Up
In mid-January, senior guard Myles Davis left the team, after having been reinstated just two weeks earlier, following a 15-game suspension relating to domestic violence charges brought against him by an ex-girlfriend. Just a week later, RS Sophomore Edmond Sumner, who was averaging 15.0 points, 5.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game, tore his ACL. Sumner played 35 minutes against Villanova earlier this year while Davis, in the first game back from suspension, chipped in 13 minutes. In a year that's unexpectedly been full of adversity, Xavier is staying afloat but this team looks very different from the team 'Nova throttled by 25 earlier this season. However, Xavier is still led by Junior Trevon Bluiett, who struggled against 'Nova on a 2-10 shooting night. In Xavier's win over Creighton last week, Bluiett played all 40 minutes while true Freshman Quentin Goodin, called upon to replace Sumner, played 38 of his own. The Muskies were balanced, with four starters ending with 15+ points, and shot a combined 50% from the field.
Almost a year ago, Villanova went into Cincinnati carrying a #1 ranking and suffered a ten point loss at the hands of then-#5 Xavier, who was happy to repay Villanova for the 30 point spanking they received on the Main Line earlier in the season. This year, the Muskies received a slightly gentler spanking (only 25 points) so, once again, they will be looking for revenge. Throw in the fact that 'Nova is the defending Champs, and the Cintas Center will be electric on Saturday.
Both of the Wildcats' losses this year have come in in-conference road games against Butler and Marquette. In fact, the squeaker against Purdue and the 10-point win over Creighton are Villanova's only true road wins against (likely) tournament-bound teams. It's never easy to win in-conference road games, especially against Top 25 teams, but if Villanova can secure a victory on Saturday, it's just another step towards locking up the 1 seed in the East.