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Villanova Basketball 2021-22 game preview: No. 17 Xavier Musketeers

‘The Cats head to Cincy with a season sweep of the Musketeers on their mind.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Villanova Andrew Zwarych-USA TODAY Sports

Villanova is heading to Cincinnati and will finish their second season series of the year, this time they’ll be shooting for a season sweep.

Villanova (11-4, 4-1 Big East) will play on the road at Xavier (12-2, 2-1 Big East) on Wednesday night, tip-off is 6:30 p.m. ET and will be seen on FS1.

The 'Cats beat Xavier 71-58 three weeks ago at home. It was a game where Xavier rode a hot shooting first half to an eight-point half time lead. It was the fifth straight half that the ‘Cats lost. Nova dominated the second half however to the tune of 41-20 advantage. They have looked the part of a Big East favorite since then.

We know the ‘Cats are no stranger to the road this season so they should be well prepared to try and get a win at the Cintas Center.

Xavier’s Range

The Musketeers have only played once since their loss to Nova, and it was a 15-point win at Butler on Friday night. In that win they shot 10-of-22 from distance with Adam Kunkel, their second best 3-point shooter, going 4-of-8. Six Musketeers made a shot from distance. This was much improved from their loss to Nova.

In that loss, Xavier started 6-of-9 in the first half before missing their last 14 attempts from beyond the arc. They didn’t make a single 3-pointer in the second half. Kunkel only made one 3-pointer. Xavier shot an awful 14% from distance in their only other loss this season to Iowa State. Nate Johnson, their top 3-point shooter, went 1-of-4 from three and Xavier as a team was 3-of-21 performance.

Nova will certainly try to replicate the defense from the second half of the first matchup rather than the first half.

Nova has good 3-point defense on the season with opponents shooting 30.6% per game. The ‘Cats have been even better on this four-game win streak with opponents only shooting 24% from three.

Bryan Antoine didn’t play in the first matchup so I’m curious to see how his defense affects Xavier. He’s really added to Nova’s defense, and they will need him to bother Nate Johnson as much as possible.

Zach Freemantle

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Butler Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

The Second Team All-Big East performer and Big East Co-Most Improved player from last season has yet to really have games at the level he was having a season ago.

Granted, Freemantle had a serious foot injury that kept him out of Xavier’s first six games of the season while he didn’t rejoin the starting lineup until his fifth game back.

In the first meeting between 'Nova and Xavier, Freemantle played 29 minutes and scored six points with three rebounds. For some context, Freemantle was Xavier’s leading scorer and rebounder from last season at 16.1 PPG and 8.9 RPG. When Freemantle is at his best, he can be effective inside and out.

He isn’t a scary 3-point shooter but at 32% last season he is enough of a threat to add to his high scoring efficiency below the arc. Freemantle shot 59% last season on 2-pointers.

He can score on the low block, using just a hook shot. His drop step can be quick as well when he has a defender on his back. He’s comfortable catching the ball in the high post off of screen and rolls. If a defense doesn’t switch in time or stay with their man, then he’s able to find a wing cutting to the rim.

His movement doesn’t seem hindered, and he showed flashes of his well-versed game in a blowout win against Ball State in December. He had 10 points against Butler on Friday which was his second highest total for the season. If Xavier wants a chance to win in March, then they will need Freemantle’s production to start to resemble that of last season.

Not So Little Things

Xavier had 13 turnovers in their loss to Nova three weeks ago. That number is too high considering the level that Nova’s defense has been playing at. Some of this is to be expected with Xavier not having a true point guard in their rotation. They have good combo guards and guards who can score but not someone who really sets a tempo for them.

Turnovers were an issue in their Iowa State loss as well, coughing it up 17 times. Paul Scruggs and Nate Johnson each had five in that game. I’m excited to see the defense of Brandon Slater and Bryan Antoine on the Xavier guards. If Slater and Antoine can disrupt their tempo, it could lead to another good defensive outing for the ‘Cats.

Nova shot an uncharacteristic 65% from the free throw in the first matchup with Justin Moore and Jermaine Samuels going a combined 1-of-5. The ‘Cats will want to be better against a top 20 team on the road.