Needing a quality win at home against Providence following a two game losing streak, Xavier entered halftime down seven points. Chris Mack and his Musketeer team left the locker room looking for a shot in the dark to salvage their season. They found a 23-4 run to start the second half and a resulting nine-point victory over the Friars. Xavier has since won six out of nine games, only losing to St. John's twice and Villanova. After a statement win over Butler in the Big East Tournament, the Musketeers overcame a furious Georgetown rally in the semi-final game to reach their very first Big East Tournament Final. Facing top seeded Villanova, these three reasons will allow Xavier to perform what many would consider an upset.
Matt Stainbrook's strength in the post
In their semi-final matchup against Georgetown, Stainbrook dominated the Hoyas' foul-plagued interior defense to the tune of 20 points and 9 rebounds. This game was not just an anomaly for the senior from Bay Hill Ohio. In his last three games, he has scored over 20 points twice, and has averaged over nine rebounds per game. Villanova, whose interior defense is dominated by center Daniel Ochefu, has played close games that can exploit a weakness in the paint. Additionally, Ochefu plays less than 24 minutes a game, so Stainbrook should be able to use his strength down low to his advantage against an undersized Villanova team when the Wildcat big man is not playing. If Jay Wright decides to double team him, Stainbrook is a proven passer, and averages over two assists a game. He would be able to find Remy Abell and the other Musketeer shooters open against the pressure of the Villanova defense. Villanova will not have an answer for Xavier down in the paint.
The matchup against Villanova's pressure defense
Playing against a team that boasts eight steals a game, the easiest way to beat Villanova is to prevent turnovers, win on the fast break, and spread the ball around. Xavier has the 24th best assist-to-turnover rating in the country, and loves to play up-tempo so their guards can score easy baskets. The Musketeers are a top ten team in terms of assists per game and will not be stifled after the first option is not available. They are an experienced team that can be patient and wait for their opportunity, while also having the ability to push the pace when necessary. Xavier can add an unpredictability to their offense that may throw Jay Wright's defense off, and force them to become tentative. Also, their small lineup allows for extra ball handlers who can disrupt and weave through the Wildcat pressure.
The mix of experience and youth
Chris Mack has constructed this team so the underclassmen (Trevon Blueitt, Myles Davis, Jalen Reynolds) are constructed and combined into lineups with Stainbrook, Dee Davis, Remy Abell, and other seniors. The underclassmen are Big East recruits had more publicity around their arrival and are willing to take the star roles. Those who were recruited in the Atlantic 10 (Xavier's old conference) and transferred from other non power conferences understand Mack's system and can introduce Blueitt and the other coveted underclassmen how to play unselfishly and together. This allows for a quality mix of players who can contribute and feed off of each others strengths and weaknesses.