Villanova has been on a roll as of late, winning their first four games of conference play and showing great poise in coming back from second half deficits. Their next game is at the Wells Fargo Center against a Xavier squad in flux after losing their top three scorers from their conference champion squad (Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura, and Kerem Kanter) to graduation and head coach Chris Mack leaving the program to coach Louisville. However, under the guidance of new coach Travis Steele, the Musketeers have still been able to make noise in conference play and are currently 3rd in the conference with a 3-2 record after their narrow victory against Butler at home. Here’s some things to look out for in this game:
PB & Jelly
One area Xavier has particularly struggled with this year is guarding quicker guards, especially those who can shoot from outside. Markus Howard and Myles Powell both scored at least 25 points and had 8 assists in their games against Xavier this year, and the team is the 134th ranked defense in the country according to KenPom’s adjusted defensive rankings. As of late, Phil Booth has stepped into the role handled by Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson in previous seasons as their primary scorer, averaging 22.3 PPG in conference play and especially stepping up in crunch-time situations versus St. John’s and Creighton. If Booth can keep up his hot shooting, especially against a poor defensive team, it could be a long night for the Musketeers. Additionally, freshman Jahvon Quinerly has shown flashes of brilliance after a rocky start to the season, and the poor defensive performance by Xavier so far this season could help him to build momentum entering the stretch run of the season.
They Are Marshall
Pacing the Musketeers in scoring is sophomore forward Naji Marshall, a sophomore forward from Atlantic City, New Jersey. Marshall showed his potential last year at times, but he has truly blossomed into a force to be reckoned with this year. Despite a putrid shooting percentage from beyond the arc this year (20.3%), he has the green light from beyond the arc and a pedigree which shows that his skill as a shooter is not truly being shown (34.9% from three in 2017-18). If Marshall has a hot shooting day for Xavier, the Musketeers will be much more likely to be able to put up a fight against Nova.
Man of Steele
When Travis Steele was hired, he had incredibly large shoes to fill. Chris Mack left the program as the winningest coach in school history, averaging nearly 22 wins per year. However, while Xavier’s record may not show it, Steele has done an admirable job in following up his mentor. The team was predicted to finish near the bottom of the conference following the losses of Bluiett, Macura, and Kanter, but Steele has kept the team competitive thus far in a truly wide open Big East, and has shown that Xavier’s program won’t be going away any time soon.
Tipoff is at 8:30 PM ET on Friday at the Wells Fargo Center, and the game will be broadcast live on FoxSports1 and the FoxSportsGo app.