The Teams: Villanova (19-2, 7-1 Big East) 3 Game Winning Streak vs. Xavier (15-6, 5-3 Big East) 2 Game Losing Streak
The Date: Monday, February 3
The Time: 7:00pm ET
The Location: The Pavilion; Villanova, PA.
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 1210 WHPT (Villanova)
The Story of the Season (Villanova)
The Villanova Wildcats were bruised, beaten up and needed a break. The team was starting to show the effects of playing in the hard nosed, no-nonsense Big East Conference, and it was starting to get to them. Luckily, the team got a much-needed break in an easy victory over the Temple Owls on Saturday by a final score of 90-74.
So the Cats make their return to conference play. In hopes of being rejuvented, they will hit the home stretch of BIG EAST play. In this last stretch, Nova will be looking to make a huge push to surpass newcomer Creighton in order to reestablish themselves as the "Beasts of the BIG EAST."
One of the recently rising stars for Villanova is sophomore center Daniel Ochefu who may be as efficient of a scorer as anyone in else in college basketball right now. He may only be averaging 5.6 PPG, but he can't seem to miss from the floor. This season, Ochefu is averaging about three shot attempts per game, and is shooting 60.5 percent. This mark is almost 15.0 percent better than the team average. If that's impressive to you, take a gander at what the sophomore has done as of late. Over the past six games, Ochefu has been averaging a hair under 10 PPG; 9.5 PPG to be exact, all while shooting an absurd 85.0 percent from the field.
With a tough stretch of games coming up in the near future, Villanova will need Ochefu to be at the top of his game as a scorer to add yet another dimension to its high powered offense.
The Story of the Season (Xavier)
The Xavier Musketeers are confusing. I could go without writing another sentence and this part of the preview would be perfectly effective.
This is a team that did not lose a game throughout the entire month of December and was riding an eight-game win streak. This included marquee wins versus now No.13 Cincinnati and on the road against a pretty good home team in Alabama. Now, the Musketeers are on a two-game losing streak, having dropped back-to-back BIG EAST games against Providence and Seton Hall.
This Xavier team is extremely balanced in seemingly every statistical category, and does a little bit of everything well. They shoot the ball at 47.0 percent, which is good enough for second best in the BIG EAST. But, they're pretty one-dimensional offensively, as they have shot the second least amount of 3-pointers in the conference (5.3 per game).
If you want to compete against this Musketeers team, you better be ready to hit the boards early and often. This Xavier team is great at rebounding the ball, first in the conference with 38.5 RPG, and the effort is led by junior center Matt Stainbrook. Stainbrook is a big bruiser that has great ball awareness, which explains his 8.8 RPG (2nd in the BIG EAST). If a team does not show up against Xavier ready to get physical on the glass, they will be in for a rude awakening.
The Players to Keep Your Eyes On:
Villanova: Senior James Bell has been playing absolutely out of his mind in the recent weeks, and as a result, he's transformed into Villanova's best offensive threat. The place where he has been at his best has been beyond the 3-point arc. Bell has been unconscious from out there, shooting 46.0% from 3-point land over the recent stretch of games where he hasn't scored less than 14 points. He also gives Nova a new outside threat so that teams are no longer able to exclusively double-team JayVaughn Pinkston in the post.
Xavier: Sophomore Semaj Christon has been lighting up the scoreboard all season for the Musketeers. He's averaging 17.1 ppg this season, and has only put up single digit point totals in 3 games this season. He's extremely consistent when it comes to scoring, and is the main threat for Xavier, as the next leading scorer is posted up at 11.1 ppg. Much like the team as a whole, Christon makes great decisions with his shot selection and doesn't really shoot 3-pointers (only 26 attempts all season). One way to possibly Christon on offense is by sending him to the free throw line, where he is only a 65% shooter on the season.
The Stat of The Game:
In the 20 all-time meetings , Villanova has only lost to Xavier four times, with the most recent loss coming in 2006.
This is going to be a great matchup, because it pits the top two rebounding teams in the Big East, which means that it's going to be another bruising battle in the Big East. The Musketeers is extremely talented and has the ability to beat really anyone in the conference when they play up to their full ability. Unfortunately for Xavier, they have been way too inconsistent for me to take them in a road game in the Pavilion.
Villanova 83 Xavier 78