How to Watch
Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
TV: FOX (Joe Davis, Len Elmore)
Radio: 610 Radio (Villanova), 700 WLW (Xavier)
Stream: Fox Sports Go
Line: Villanova (-2)
This might be the most important regular-season game left in college basketball
After Villanova’s loss to Providence on Wednesday night, you may have heard some questioning the ranking that the Wildcats have gotten in the AP Top 25. Friars head coach Ed Cooley agrees with them, but not in the way you might think.
“They should be the No. 1 team,” said Cooley after the game. “I’m tired of Villanova not being respected the way they should nationally. … I don’t know who’s doing all the voting, but tell Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles they’re looking at the wrong crew.”
This may come as a surprise to many, as Villanova has now lost two of their last three games - falling to St. Johns 79-75 last week and Providence earlier this week. If Xavier can pull off the upset this weekend, the Wildcats will have the same number of losses as they have had broken bones this season - that is if you don’t count Omari Spellman’s small facial bone fracture as a break. It didn’t seem like the protective mask he wore Wednesday hurt his playing too much - he came out with 11 points and nine defensive rebounds throughout the 33 minutes he clocked against the Friars.
Villanova is - unsurprisingly - still reeling from the injuries they’ve seen this season. Eric Paschall returned against Providence after being out with a concussion, and hopefully he’ll be back in the swing of things and able to help ‘Nova switch gears defensively, as well as give Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges some more desperately needed bench time. Freshmen Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels have been helping out on that end as of late, both coming back from broken hand bones, and playing better and better with every minute they see on the court. One Wildcat still out with an injury is Phil Booth, and he’s been sorely missed on the court as of late. The importance of the leadership and defensive effort that Booth brings into games cannot be understated, and is definitely impacting the playing style of the ‘Cats recently.
On the other side of this matchup, Xavier is currently holding a 9-game win streak, and is looking to be the next team to take down the Wildcats. The Musketeers are enjoying being the top team in the conference, and have just been on fire lately. This game will be their chance to redeem themselves after falling to ‘Nova last month 89-65. That was the third straight win for the Wildcats against Xavier, with the Musketeers falling time and again to the Big East giant… although perhaps they’ll have taken that title for themselves after this matchup.
There’s a lot riding on this game - conference play is wrapping up, and the regular season is just a few weeks away from being over. Villanova hasn’t lost back-to-back games in five years, and their hopes for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament might get shaky if they break that streak this weekend. Losing would also mean Villanova would fall two games behind Xavier with only a few games left - potentially ruining Villanova’s other streak of four years - this claim to fame being that they’ve been the regular season conference champions year after year.
You’ll have to pay attention to the differences in the two halves of this game. Each team has their own strengths, and distinctive play styles each half. Villanova has been known to be a second-half team for quite awhile now, and that’s something they’ll need to get back if they hope to come out ahead this weekend. Hopefully Villanova head coach Jay Wright has spent some time drafting his halftime speech, as they seem to have been a bit lackluster as of late. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Xavier is notorious for coming out strong, and struggling in the last 20 minutes of their games. Xavier’s three-point star Trevon Bluiett commented on this after scoring 37 points during their win over Seton Hall on Valentines Day.
”I think we have the potential to be really good but our problem is that we’re a one-half team,” Bluiett said. “We need to learn how to put both halves together. I mean, we’ll have a great first half and the second half, we just die down. Our biggest thing is energy.”
If the Wildcats can play good defense in the first half, and come out strong in the second, they’ll come out ahead. However, Xavier might find their second wind - and first win against ‘Nova in a few years - in the desire to crush a number of the Wildcat’s streaks, and perhaps some of their spirit nearing the end of the season. The unnatural slump the ‘Cats have found themselves in might come to an end this weekend, or their streak of bad luck - and bad basketball - might continue.