The Villanova Wildcats will look to continue their momentum from Wednesday night into Saturday’s key matchup against the 18th-ranked Xavier Musketeers. Xavier is riding an eight-game winning streak after defeating then second-ranked UConn, 83-73, on New Year’s Eve.
After a start that had Xavier falling to all tournament-worthy teams they faced, the Musketeers seem to be figuring things out. With single-digit losses to Indiana, Duke and Gonzaga, the UConn win was a turning point for the Musketeers.
On the other hand, the Wildcats have not had that top-25 win yet. Perhaps Saturday’s game against Xavier could be the win the ‘Cats need to turn around their season.
The rivalry between Villanova and Xavier has historically been a one-sided one with the Wildcats winning 10 of the last 11 matchups and 16 of 19 total. Xavier has always had very talented teams since entering the Big East in 2013, but Villanova always seemed to match up well with them.
Villanova looks to gain a signature win at home as they welcome the Xavier Musketeers to the Finneran Pavilion on Saturday. Ahead of the matchup, let’s highlight a few things to watch out for:
Villanova Will Need All Hands on Deck
With the looks of Wednesday’s injury to sophomore Jordan Longino, there is no official word yet, but assume he doesn’t suit up for Saturday’s matchup against Xavier. Even if he is able to, expect him to be limited, Longino injured his surgically-repaired knee with two minutes left in the first half against Georgetown and never returned.
The worst part about the injury is that Longino had been looking healthier in every game leading up to the injury.
Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said, “I do not think it is anything too serious,” when asked about the injury post-game, so hopefully Longino can return to action soon.
While Longino is out, the Wildcats will need more from their freshmen - Mark Armstrong, Cam Whitmore and Brendan Hausen. In the second half of the Georgetown game, the Wildcats were able to show that they have multiple people who can get it done on both ends.
Mark Armstrong scored a career-high 14 points while looking much more comfortable on the court. In previous games, he has been hesitant to drive to the hoop, but this game was a different story. Armstrong looked like a true Villanova point guard jump-stopping on two feet in the paint and finding the open man. Armstrong also showed off his speed and athleticism with this two-handed jam:
Since entering the starting lineup, Cam Whitmore has provided a much-needed boost defending and rebounding. With Villanova’s lack of size, Whitmore’s athleticism on the glass has been essential to the team staying competitive this season.
Although Brendan Hausen did not have his best shooting game against Georgetown, he was letting it fly with confidence. Hausen is one of the best shooters to ever grace the Main Line and he has the green-light 24/7. There will not be many games in which Hausen shoots 0-for-4 from three-point land — confidence is key for shooters so it is better he goes 0-for-4 than 0-for-0 and passes up open looks.
In Wednesday’s game against Georgetown, five out of six players who played 12-plus minutes scored eight or more points. The only player who did not score eight or more points was point guard Chris Arcidiacono, who contributed five rebounds.
The likely short-handed Wildcats will need another team-effort to take down the Musketeers and earn their first ranked win of the season.
The Musketeers Have a Loaded Roster
In Sean Miller’s first season at the helm of the Xavier Musketeers, he has the program off to a great start. The first-place Musketeers are 12-3 overall and 4-0 in the Big East. Miller has the Musketeers playing great team-basketball leading the nation in assists.
The Musketeers are led in scoring by UTEP graduate transfer Souley Boum who averages 16.9 points and 4.6 assists per game, while shooting 50.3% from the field. Boum is a 6-3 combo guard with great vision, quickness and can shoot the lights out shooting 46.9% from three this season.
After transferring from Iowa before last season, big-man Jack Nunge has found a home at Xavier. Nunge is having a huge year for the Musketeers averaging 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 54.5% from the field. Nunge can score in the paint and he can also stroke it from deep, shooting 42.9% from three.
Nunge’s frontcourt-mate Zach Freemantle is another big for Xavier who can score in the paint and shoot threes. Similar to Eric Dixon last season, Freemantle does not shoot many threes, but when he does, they usually go in - Freemantle is 6-of-10 (60.0%) from deep this season and has converted a triple in five out of the last six games. Freemantle averages 14.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and shoots 58.9% overall.
In addition to all this talent, perhaps the most important player on Xavier’s team is 6-of-6 junior guard Colby Jones who can do just about anything on the basketball court. Jones averages 14.3 points, 5.6 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game and is shooting an efficient 50.4% overall and an impressive 45.0% from three and sets the tone for the offense.
This Xavier team has it all — numerous players who can fill it up, elite shooters, crafty distributors and a pair of bigs that not many teams in the country can match up with. This is a team that can share and shoot the ball as well as anyone in the country and together, they boast the No. 8-ranked offense and the third-highest assist rate in the country (assists on 68.8% of made shots) according to KenPom.
Even if the shots are not falling, the Musketeers can dump the ball down to their two bigs who can get them a basket at-will. The Musketeers are a scary matchup for anyone they face this season.
Villanova will need to do a much better job defending the three than they have in previous games if they want any chance of defeating Xavier. Villanova and Xavier face off at the Finneran Pavilion at 4:30 p.m. ET on FS1.