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3-Strike Preview: Xavier at Villanova

Xavier broke an 11-game losing streak on Wednesday. Now the Musketeers will try to slice their way through the Vilanova Wildcats and improve on an 0-6 Big East record.

If Xavier has any prayer of sliding into the top four spots in the conference and earning a trip to Omaha for the Big East Tournament, it has to start winning. A lot. Right now. It has to start on Friday, as the 9-27 Musketeers visit the 13-18 Wildcats at Villanova Ballpark at Plymouth Meeting. Villanova needs to reverse course itself, as it has lost three of its last four games, including a 6-2 setback against Rider in the title game of the Liberty Bell Classic on Wednesday.

1. Patrolling the basepaths

Xavier doesn't do a whole lot well, especially offensively. With a ghastly team batting average of just .235 and an on-base percentage of .318, the Musketeers have to make the most of every baserunner they get. That means being aggressive on the basepaths. They have attempted 70 steals this season and been successful on 54 of them, the second most in the Big East behind Seton Hall. Daniel Rizzie (12-of-15), Nate Soria (11-of-15) and Brian Bruening (9-of-12) are the most lethal thieves. Soria had two of the team's four stolen bases in the 11-6 win over Miami-Ohio on Wednesday. Expect the X-men to test Villanova's backstops all weekend and with some success. After all, the Wildcats have allowed 52 stolen bases this season, the second most in the conference.

2. Expect low scores

It isn't all that often that either Xavier or Villanova gets mixed up in a high-scoring affair, at least on their end. Yes, the Musketeers scored 11 runs on Wednesday, but that was a giant anomaly. Prior to that effort, they had been held to two runs or less in six straight games. They are scoring only 3.4 runs per game, while driving in a meager 119 as a team. Villanova has been only a bit better in the run producing department, despite hitting a much more respectable .268. The 'Cats are averaging 4.2 runs per game, with 115 runs batted in. Max Beermann leads the way with 26 RBI, which is one of the top marks in the league.

3. Searching for .300

Villanova has a trio of batters hitting above .300. Todd Czinege (.336//392/.412) is the top batter. He is skilled at finding gaps in the outfield, with 10 doubles to his credit and the third-best slugging percentage on the team. Eric Lowe (.324/.402/.333) has only one extra base hit on the campaign, but he is an on-base machine. Adam Goss (.322/.398/.424) rounds out the trio and has a home run and 12 RBI.

Unfortunately, there are not as many offensive lightning bolts in Xavier's lineup. In fact, it is the only team in the Big East without a .300 hitter. That could change if either Ethan Schmidt (.295/.389/.426) or Soria (.289/.398/.422) can catch fire this weekend. Both have plenty of pop, with 12 of their 44 hits going for extra bases. Each is slugging above .400 as well.