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Villanova Basketball 2022-23 game preview: No. 16 Xavier Musketeers

The ‘Cats will get another crack at the Musketeers at the Cintas Center.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Villanova Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

After a rough loss at Providence, there’s still no rest for the weary.

Villanova continues its road trip out in the midwest for a game at another tough place to play — the Cintas Center in Cincinnati — to take on Xavier.

The Musketeers are 20-7 and 12-4 in Big East play. They got a double-digit win against DePaul over the weekend, after dropping back-to-back games on the road against Butler and Marquette.

Much like Providence and the AMP, Xavier has also been impressive at home. The Musketeers are undefeated against Big East opponents at the Cintas Center. They do have one blemish on their home record, an early-season loss to Indiana in an early-season 81-79 loss, but Xavier has definitely made up for it since then.

Meanwhile, Villanova is back below-.500 after getting beat down the stretch by Providence. The Wildcats enter with a 13-14 record and 7-9 in Big East play.

Xavier defeated Villanova the last time out, 88-80, on Jan. 7 during the Musketeers’ 11-game winning streak that stretched from late November to mid-January.

Tuesday’s Villanova-Xavier game is set to tip-off at 6:30 p.m. ET. The game will be available on Fox Sports 1, if you don’t plan on making the road trip to Cincy.

Deja Vu?

Xavier has a lot in common with Villanova’s most recent opponent, Providence. The Musketeers have a formidable frontcourt anchored by a stud, they’re a strong rebounding team, and they prefer to attack the inside, where they get 56.1% of their points on two-pointers, and only 27.5% from beyond the arc. Xavier also has plenty of balance and when it defeated ‘Nova in the last meeting, the Musketeers had four different players score at least 11 points.

Villanova will need to get all hands on deck, especially when it comes to dealing with Zach Freemantle. He torched the Wildcats for 29 points on 12-of-17 shooting, with 11 rebounds and four assists. Considering Ed Croswell’s game on Saturday, it could be another similar performance.

Souley Boum is continuing his superb season. The impact transfer leads the Musketeers with 16.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.2 steals per game, and he’s a do-it-all guard. He also had a big game against the ‘Cats, tallying 22 points, 10 boards and six assists.

The rest of the Musketeers’ starting five also averages in double figures, with Colby Jones (14.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game), Jack Nunge (14.7 points and 7.9 rebounds), plus Adam Kunkel (10.2 points) all keeping things interesting and packing a punch.

Xavier operates with a fairly short rotation, ranking 337th in the country in bench minutes. However, it has certainly worked for the Musketeers so far. Their faster-pace style of play and formidable top 10-ranked offense, according to KenPom, will give Villanova plenty to worry about. However, the ‘Cats should know what expect after getting a feel for them in their last meeting.

Villanova gave up a season-high 88 points to the Musketeers the last time out. The 85-72 loss to Providence on Saturday is the second-most points it has given up to an opponent this season, so it’ll have plenty to worry about.

As a team, Xavier boasts the seventh-highest effective field goal percentage in the country (56.1%). Despite not taking many threes, it should probably feel free to pull up more than usual, as the Musketeers are converting at an impressive 39.6% clip from beyond the arc. Everyone in Xavier’s lineup is capable of taking-and-making threes, even Freemantle, who still prefers to go inside but is shooting a total of 14-of-22 (63.6%) this season from three. When he’s open, he’ll gladly take it. The rest of the starting five are around the 40% mark from three, which is also very good.

Get back on track?

Saturday’s game encapsulated the ups and downs of Villanova’s season and its shortcomings. The Wildcats came back twice and the game was within reach in the final two minutes, before Providence pulled away for a double-digit victory.

With a fairly quick turnaround and an unforgiving gauntlet before the Big East Tournament, it doesn’t get easier from here.

Although Villanova’s faults down the stretch have been a recurring theme, particularly on offense, the Wildcats actually had one of their better scoring performances in the final seven minutes, shooting 10-of-19 (52.6%) against Xavier.

Defense will be an imperative, especially if Villanova isn’t as fortunate offensively on Tuesday night. The Musketeers have plenty of scoring threats and while the ‘Cats were able to keep up to an extent against them the last time out, a series of stops would’ve gone a long way.

Offensively, there are glaring problems, but are they fixable at this point of the season? Habits are hard to break, and while the team’s subpar three-point shooting percentage and lack of production in closing time of Big East play have been pointed to over and over — let’s look at a different area.

This year’s Wildcats have an assist rate of 46.8%, which is good for 290th in the country. That mark is Villanova’s lowest in the last 20 years.

The 2004-05 Wildcats did rank 303rd in assist rate by season’s end, but they had a slightly higher percentage of 48.1%. Fans have been clamoring for more ball movement and sharing of the ball, which is warranted, but the lack of a true point guard and Justin Moore still playing catch-up on the court may have attributed to this.

However, one-on-one ball, forced and settled shots seemed to be some of the reasons for the Wildcats’ falling short offensively on Saturday. Will we see more ball movement and creativity on offense?