MUSKIES STUMBLE AT PC!! LIFE ON THE ROAD IN THE BIG EAST!!
Andy Mac Williams,
Xavier started slowly Saturday at Providence and never recovered losing 81-72 to the Friars at the sold-out Dunkin' Doughnuts Center. It was an ugly road loss in the conference(kinda normal in a very good competitive league which features true home and home round robin scheduling). The game started uncomfortably early(12 noon). The building was chilly(Winter Storm Grayson had just passed through and the AHL Providence Bruins had played Friday night with just a thin layer of insulation covering the ice sheet below the basketball floor). Xavier players took the aptly named warm-up wearing hoodies. The conditions obviously were the same for both teams, but PC coming off back to back BIG EAST defeats played with more urgency and a fully intact line-up after missing top scorer-rebounder Rodney Bullock in their mid-week OT loss to Marquette. Bullock and fellow Senior Jalen Lindsey had recovered from the stomach flu just in time to greet Xavier.
Road wins may be scarce in the balanced BIG EAST this season. The Muskies were extended in the Opener at Marquette winning 91-87. #1 rated Villanova(back on top of both the AP and USA Today Coaches' Polls again this week after upsets dealt to Michigan State and Duke) has lost at Butler already.
Overall XU is now 1-4 at Providence since the dawning of the New BIG East in 2014. Xavier is sub .500 for BE road games(16-20) including 0-4 at Villanova and 0-4 at Seton Hall. The Muskies' best away BIG EAST season took place in 2016(6-3). That team finished second at 13-5 overall behind NCAA Champ Villanova.......
VERY LITTLE WENT RIGHT FOR XAVIER:
The first half proved a statistical nightmare. XU trailed by 8 at the break(40-32). They turned it over 10 times and shot it poorly from all over(7-18 inside the arc, 4-13 from three and 6-10 at the foul line). Bullock came off his sick bed to score well(11 points). Kaiser Gates had an off-day( 0 points). He averages 9PPG and his man defensively was Bullock. Xavier went 1-3-1 zone early because they couldn't contain the PC dribble drives and Providence then dissected the zone.
The second half wasn't much better. X and PC basically traded baskets. The Muskies made a few runs, but defensive stops were hard to come by. The X inside game did thrive(minor silver lining). Karem Kanter proved unstoppable around the rim(24 points-12 rebounds in just 20 minutes).Tyrique Jones returned to near his Connecticut home base and threw his weight around(12 points-7 boards).
The rest of the normally solid 9 man rotation underachieved while Providence showed the better depth with 5 players hitting double figures in points. PC also turned the ball over just 9 times and outscored Xavier at the foul line. Bluiett and Macura totaled just 31 points(10 below their average). The road loss at PC was not shocking nor unexpected. The trick now is to turn this adversity into a speed bump and not a protracted losing streak.
WHERE XAVIER STANDS??
The Muskies are a robust 15-2 overall and 3-1 in the BIG EAST(tied for second with Creighton-a half game back of 3-0 Seton Hall). SHU plays at Marquette(2-2) Tuesday. Creighton is home Tuesday in Omaha against Butler(2-2). XU dropped to 10th in both National Polls. Villanova returns to #1 with Seton Hall #13 in AP and #15 Coaches' and Creighton #25 in AP and #22 in Coaches'.
The Creighton Blue Jays play Xavier at Cintas Saturday afternoon(2PM EST-BIG FOX-WXIX Channel 19 in Cincinnati).The NCAA RPIs are very BIG EAST friendly(Duke #1,Virginia#2, Xavier#3, Seton Hall#4, Clemson#5 and Villanova#6).
The Muskies may have a tough time avoiding a two game losing streak. They play #1 Villanova(14-1, 2-1 BIG EAST) Wednesday evening(8PM-EST-Fox Sports 1) in Philadelphia at the downtown Wells Fargo Center. Chris Mack refers to the last four XU-VU games played at the on-campus Pavilion as "our annual Philadelphia ass kicking". He is correct!! Xavier is an anemic 0-4(average loss by 22 points). Overall Villanova has won 8 of 9 against Xavier in BE play.
Nova has been a dominant program with an NCAA Title(2016 over North Carolina) 4 BIG EAST Regular Season Championships(63-9 composite record) and two BIG EAST Tournament Titles at MSG. They rarely lose in Philadelphia(1 defeat at the Pavilion in 4 years)(11-2 with an active 9 game winning streak at Wells Fargo). The Pavilion is being renovated so Wells Fargo is VU's home away from home this season and they're 4-0 downtown so far with non-conference "Ws" over Columbia, Nichols State and LaSalle and a BIG EAST win over Marquette(100-90) last Saturday.....
VILLANOVA IS LOADED AGAIN:
They opened 13-0 winning the BATTLE4ATLANTIS and drubbing Gonzaga 88-72 at MSG. They moved up to #1 then lost a wild shoot-out a week ago Saturday at Butler 101-93. Now they're back at #1 after a bye week to work on defense and a victory over Marquette despite allowing Markus Howard to score 37 points and the losses by MSU and Duke. Xavier killers Josh Hart and Chris Jenkins have graduated.
RS FROSH Omari Spellman starts as their lone BIG(6-9 240). He's a gifted scorer(11PPG-8REBS). He's been foul prone though. Two young bench players 6-7 Jermaine Samuels and PG Collin Gillespie are out with broken hands. Both figured into Coach Jay Wright's preferred 8 man rotation.
Wright has a set formula after 17 seasons and 400 wins at Villanova and two Final Fours. His bench consists of the best 6th man in the NCAA Donte Divincenzo(12.5PPG) and 6-9 Frosh Da-Da Cosby Roundtree. It's not ideal, but the four veteran starters are pretty good.
PG Jaylen Brunson is a National Player of the Year candidate(20PPG-5 assists). His crafty lefty ballhandling skills rip apart most defenses(VU averages 89PPG).Brunson has dropped 31 points a few times already. Villanova's offense is built on precision passing-probing for the best shot-bounce passes-shot fakes. Brunson usually finds the open cutters. VU's trapping press nets live ball turnovers and leads to plenty of dunks and lay-ups.
Brunson is probably a first round NBA Draft Pick if he decides to come out as is 6-7 Mikal Bridges(18PPG) who now drills the threes to compliment his high wire dunking game. Guard Phil Booth(12PPG) is back after an injury red shirt. He scored 20 in the NCAA Title win over UNC. Fordham transfer Eric Paschall(6-7 245) is a starter now and scoring much more efficiently.
IS A XAVIER UPSET POSSIBLE??
Do the Muskies believe they can beat Villanova in Philadelphia after all the negative history?? The location(Wells Fargo vs the Pavilion) might make a difference. The game should sell-out(#1 against #10) but the students aren't as rabid as they are on campus. Maybe we are grasping at straws here??
Villanova is still Villanova. Brunson may well chase XU out of the 1-3-1 zone with his low dribble penetration. VU can carve up any zone with their three point shooting(46% of their shots from three hitting at 40%). Their press speeds almost everybody up (except Butler) creates turnovers and forces contested jump shots.
Their overall defense gave up 63PPG in the non-conference. That number is way up to 92PPG in three BIG EAST games. X needs to attack the rim with confidence and offensive rebound those misses. Xavier has a size and depth advantage inside. They need a ton of post-ups to force free throws and VU foul trouble.
Villanova will probably win the three point FG numbers. X must counter by winning BIG inside the arc( and not with contested jumpers) and at the FT line. Turnovers have to be low. The game start has to be decent.
How to get defensive stops against a precision offense like Villanova is the question. Make them settle for threes!! Butler has learned that lesson. Wisconsin did in last season's NCAAs and Marquette did last season in Milwaukee when they used a 1-3-1 zone to engineer a double digit come back. A lightening strike and another bomb cyclone might help too!!
I'm thinking Coach Mack and the Seniors Trevon Bliett-J.P.Macura and Sean O'Mara are sick of losing in Philly. Karem Kanter with his nifty arsenal of post moves could get Spellman and Paschall in foul trouble. Gooden could cancel out Brunson in the PG match-up and Gates-Bluiett and Macura could return to scoring form after a bummer at Providence. Don't forget Naji Marshall!! This could be his BIG EAST coming out party.
I'm crazy and a cock-eyed optimist!! Vegas likes Villanova as does Ken Pom and Jay Bilas and Seth Davis. Andy Mac goes Xavier 86 Villanova 84!! End of the Ass Kicking!!!