When glancing at the Big East conference schedule prior to this season, Thursday's tilt between Xavier and Villanova stood out as a good one. Villanova was the heavy favorite to repeat as league champion and Xavier was a team coming off a Sweet 16 appearance. There was every reason to believe this would be a matchup of an undefeated top 10 team and another n the national rankings discussion at the very least.
Little did we know this would be far more than an intriguing Big East battle, but one that pitted two top 20 squads against each other, including an undefeated unit. In another change of events, that undefeated team is not 'Nova. Instead, as you may have heard, its Xavier, who sports a perfect 12-0 mark into this contest, as well as a lofty spot in the national rankings, as it is sixth in both the AP and Coaches polls. Now its time for the Musketeers to show that they really are the bully in the Big East yard.
How to watch, listen or stream
Time: 12 p.m. EST
TV: FS1, which brings out the big guns for this one as Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery are on the call.
Radio: 700 WLW-AM (Xavier), 610 Sports Radio AM (Villanova)
Rollin' the Dice
Call Xavier Rodney Dangerfield because it don't get no respect in this one, opening as a 3.5-point underdog to 'Nova.
Xavier is 9-3 against the spread this season, while the Wildcats are 7-4.
1. Fresh Points
While both of these teams are rich in depth, the matchup that might be the most fun, in terms of a one-on-one scrum, will be between freshman phenoms Edmond Sumner and Jalen Brunson. During the offseason, you couldn't go two inches on the Big East Internet without running into Brunson, the ballyhooed point guard from Illinois. Sumner had decidedly less hype surrounding him, partially due to his redshirt freshman status, but right now, he's the one playing at the All-Big East level. The 6-foot-5 guard is averaging 11.7 points and 3.3 assists per game, making the transition from the Dee Davis era seamless for Chris Mack's squad. Sumner took on a major scoring load in Xavier's come-from-behind win against Wake Forest last time out, putting up a season-high 21 points, which helped him win his second straight Big East Freshman of the Week award.
Brunson has not been the earth-shattering success many predicted, but don't let the numbers fool you. He has still been a key part of the Wildcats'attack and his base numbers are identical to Sumner (11.7 PPG, 3.3 APG). In addition, he is coming off a big-time effort against Penn when he had 22 points and five dimes. And remember, Brunson isn't always the top ball-handler as he is playing alongside another point guard in Ryan Arcidiacono.
2. Giving to Charity
One of Xavier's many strengths this season has been its ability to get to the free-throw line. Granted, constantly being ahead of other teams breeds more foul tries as opponents attempt to make up ground, but still, the X is 10th in the country in free throws made (247) and 21st in free throws attempted (336). Guess who's leading the way there? That's right. Sumner, who has been to the line 73 times and made 50, both team-highs. However, Trevon Bluiett, Myles Davis, James Farr, Jalen Reynolds and J.P. Macura have all been able to take a great many freebies, with Bluiett adding in devastating 3-point shooting (44.9 percent) along the way.
Something will have to give in this one, however, as Villanova has been rather good at playing clean defense. The Wildcats have allowed only 193 free throw attempts this season, which is the 32rd fewest in the country. Again, you can blame a lot of that on the opponents they've played and the type of game-plan those squads have employed, but it remains an interesting ripple in an already fascinating bout.
3. Championship Rematch
Its likely Big East fans are not the only ones to have this game circled on their calendar. Villanova sent upstart Xavier packing in the Big East championship game last spring and also swept the season series with the Musketeers. Josh Hart had 15 points off the bench to lead the way for the Wildcats, who still had Darrun Hilliard (12 points) and Dylan Ennis (16 points) on their side. Davis and Reynolds each had 13 points to pace Xavier, which was held to just 37.9 percent shooting. They were also decimated from long range, suffering a 27-6 deficit in scoring from 3-point distance.
That type of one-sided result has been the norm for these two recent conference rivals. Villanova has won 21 of 25 all-time matchups, including all five since Xavier joined the Big East. The last time Xavier came out on top against the Çats was in 2006 during the Paradise Jam. If you think the Musketeers don't have revenge firmly on their mind, you are outside of your own.