Game Preview: Xavier at No. 6 Villanova

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Musketeers travel to Philadelphia on Monday night to take on Wildcats, in their first matchup against a Top 10 team in over five years.

After dropping a home contest against Seton Hall on Saturday, the Xavier Musketeers get an opportunity for a resume-building win as they travel to Philadelphia to face Villanova in a quick turnaround game Monday evening.

The Wildcats are coming off a road victory over cross-town rival Temple on Saturday night, scoring a stout 1.32 points per possession in the rout. For Xavier to have a chance at the upset, they will need to shut down the Wildcats' potent offensive attack, which may be a difficult task for the struggling Musketeer defense. Xavier has allowed more than one point per possession in six of their eight conference contests.

Controlling Villanova’s offense begins with limiting junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston's production. At 6-7, 240 lbs., Pinkston is a matchup nightmare. He has the ability to post up smaller players and take bigger players off the bounce. In man-to-man situations, Xavier will likely match Isaiah Philmore against Pinkston. Philmore will be able to contain Pinkston’s post moves, but does not have the foot speed to keep up with the former McDonald’s All-American. Pinkston draws 6.8 fouls per 40 minutes, the 74th best rate among Division I players. The driving ability will put Philmore’s discipline to the test, as Isaiah has been in foul trouble often this season, including committing two first half fouls in each of Xavier’s last two games.

One way to keep Pinkston off the free throw line may be Xavier playing zone defense. The Musketeers have primarily been a man-to-man team in Chris Mack’s five years as head coach, but the dribble penetration threat of Villanova may force Mack’s hand in this contest. The issue with zone, however, would be allowing the Wildcats to shoot more 3-point attempts. Villanova shoots a mediocre 35.2 percent from deep but has several threats from the perimeter, led by James Bell, who averages 2.6 made 3-pointers per contest. It is pick your poison with Villanova’s offense, and Xavier’s best option in this game may be hoping for a cold Wildcat shooting night.

Offensively, the X-Factor for Xavier this season has been junior Justin Martin. The highly-touted recruit has been an enigma during his career in a Musketeer uniform, but has been a force in BIG EAST play. Prior to Saturday’s five point effort, Martin had scored in double figures in each of Xavier’s first seven BIG EAST games. When scoring at that level, Martin provides a third scoring option to Semaj Christon and Matt Stainbrook. Without his production, Xavier then needs to rely on the shooting of players like Dee Davis. Davis is more suited to be a distributer, and has shot a frigid 7-34 (20.6 percent) from the field.

If there is a game for Davis to look to score, this may be the opportunity. Villanova coach Jay Wright has publicly spoken about point guard Ryan Arcidiacono's poor defense. If Davis can attack Arcidiacono off the dribble, it will provide for dump offs to post players and kick outs for open 3-point attempts.

The game will mark Villanova’s 13th straight game as a Top 10 team, as the Wildcats are ranked 6th in this week’s Associated Press poll. Xavier has not played a top ten team in the regular season since an 82-64 dismantling at the hands of Duke on December 20, 2008. The Musketeers do, however, own a dominating 17-point win over current No. 7 Cincinnati. Xavier held their rival to 0.81 points per possession in that contest, and needs to revert back to that defensive fire and intensity if they hope to spring the upset.

A side note is the game is a sibling rivalry for me; I am a 2012 grad of Xavier and my sister is junior at Villanova that will be in the band for tonight’s game. The Nova students are enjoying a snow day on game day, and there is concern the weather may prevent some people from getting to the game.

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