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Villanova Basketball 2023-24 game preview: Xavier Musketeers

Villanova opens the New Year with its first look at Xavier.

Syndication: The Enquirer Albert Cesare/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

After a lengthy layoff, the Villanova Wildcats will look to begin the New Year on a high note, as they return home for their first game of 2024.

The Wildcats (9-4, 2-0 Big East) hope to build on their three-game winning streak, which includes a win over UCLA in their non-conference-play finale, plus a pair of Big East road wins over Creighton and DePaul.

Xavier (7-6, 1-1 Big East) will also be well-rested. The Musketeers are coming off of a 74-54 win against Seton Hall, which came all the way back on Dec. 23. Xavier has won three of its last four games.

Wednesday night’s game is set to tip off at 8:30 p.m. ET from Finneran Pavilion. Here are some things to watch for:

Consistency is key

Xavier has had its share of ups and downs — probably more downs than the Wildcats.

However, even in some of those losses, they demonstrated that they’re a formidable foe and got some bad breaks or fell short in a few games, which has led to their 7-6 record.

Four of those losses came by seven or fewer points, including a six-point loss to top five-ranked and undefeated Houston. It also played Purdue tough earlier in the year.

However, there were some disappointing defeats to the likes of Oakland and Delaware. There’s also Washington, who is adored by KenPom and metrics, but seems to be slipping as of late.

Xavier’s resolution for the New Year is clear: establish consistency. The Musketeers have yet to win three straight games this year, and given the competitive nature of the Big East, it might seem hard at points to turn things around and get a streak going.

The Musketeers have a solid defensive foundation, and have excelled on that end of the court. They enter No. 23 in the country for defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and they are ranked in the top 35 for opponents’ shooting percentages inside and outside the arc.

They restrict their foes to shooting just 29.1% (33rd in Division I) from long range, and 44.7% inside (32nd in Division) the arc.

Year 2 of Sean Miller’s second Xavier stint

Sean Miller’s first year back at Xavier was a pretty good one, the Musketeers reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament and finished 27-10 overall. It was the program’s first time back at the Big Dance since Chris Mack’s final season with the team in 2018.

There are a few pieces back, but overall, it’s a new-look reshuffled roster.

Rice transfer Quincy Olivari has quickly established himself as the leading man, averaging 18.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game, while shooting 47.7% overall and a career-best 43.7% from deep.

He’s a complete scorer and a threat on the court, and he plays with a determined effort that’s hungry to salvage any hopes of keeping their NCAA Tournament dream alive.

Olivari is one to watch on the three-point line, but the same can’t really be said for the rest of his teammates.

Xavier loves working the ball inside. Overall, it has struggled with finding a rhythm offensively at times, but Olivari and Desmond Claude’s breakout season has been enough to keep them afloat.

Claude is averaging 15.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per game, and has nearly tripled his production from last season.

Western Kentucky transfer Dayvion McKnight brings toughness, experience and steady two-way play. He’s coming off of a 15-point, 10-assist double-double. He’s averaging 9.5 points, 4.6 boards, 5.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game.

Abou Ousmane leads the frontcourt. The 6-foot-10 North Texas transfer has recorded four or more blocks in three of the Musketeers’ last five games. He’s an active player defensively and on the glass. This season, he’s averaging 8.4 points, 6.5 boards, 1.0 steals and 1.6 blocks per game.

Ousmane was just an end-of-bench reserve, when Villanova played North Texas en route to the Sweet 16 in 2021, so this will be his first true chance to play the ‘Cats. Like McKnight, he’s also coming off of a great game, piling up 16 points on 8-of-14 shooting, while grabbing 10 boards, five blocks and three steals against Seton Hall.

Overall, Xavier makes most of its offensive production inside the arc. Despite being a team that does not look to shoot threes, ranking in the bottom 60 nationwide for three-point attempts, the Musketeers like to move the ball and boast the fifth-highest assist rate in the country.

More than half of their scoring this season has come from inside the arc (54.5% of all points).

Starting 2024 right

The Wildcats will be well-rested after a lengthy break, which may help with Justin Moore’s recovery.

He’s missed the last three games with a knee injury. There hasn’t been an official update regarding his status for Wednesday night, but the Wildcats are slated to have a media availability session on Tuesday afternoon, where answers may be provided.

If Moore remains out, should Hakim Hart get the starting nods?

He’s provided a big punch off the bench in recent outings. A glue guy, Hart made great plays on both ends of the court against DePaul and is coming off of a 20-point performance. His defense and energy on the court have also been equally exciting to watch.

Overall, the ‘Cats have been building solid momentum as a team. Defense has been tough throughout the year, but they exploded on the offensive end in their last time out on the court. Will they get to continue their winning ways in the first of a three-game homestand?