By Andy Mac Williams, 2/16/2018

Xavier's wild weird Wednesday 102-90 win over SHU at Cintas was a classic tale of two halves. Bottom line-coupled with Villanova's 76-71 loss at Providence-the Muskies bolstered their BIG EAST regular season lead to 1 and a half games over the VU Wildcats with 4 to play for Xavier and 5 to play for Villanova. And Guess Who's coming for early Dinner Saturday at Cintas??(4:30 PM-EST-BIG FOX 19 WXIX). It's four time defending BIG EAST Champ Villanova!!!


The first half was just too easy for XU(led 45-25). The Muskies played with extreme energy and shot the lights out(9-17 from three point range-but only 2 free throws). Trevon Bluiett dialed up near perfection for 40 minutes(37 points on just 12 FG tries with 8 made threes and 13 out of 13 FTs).

A lot of guys post 30 point plus games in the BIG EAST(Shamorie Ponds,Kelan Martin, Marcus Foster, Marcus Howard, Andrew Rowsey, Max Strus, Myles Powell etc) but nobody does it as efficiently within the team context as #5 for Xavier unless it's #1 for Villanova PG Jalen Brunson).What's not to like about his NBA future? If Kyle Korver and Doug McDermott and J.J. Reddick can have long careers in the "league" so can Trevon!!!

If the refs had allowed Quentin Gooden's pop-up three at the buzzer, it would have been the perfect 20 minutes. "Q" played possessed as did Paul Scruggs and Naji Marshall(carreer high 20 points with 6 rebounds). Naji just assaulted the rim.


The second half seemed like an anti-climax. My whole golf league from Neuman clogged the walkway from the concourse to my seat inside the arena as they celebrated that opening 20. I had to power walk politely past them and actually missed Seton Hall's early second half run.

The officiating crew lost its mind. Cranky Pirate's Coach Kevin Willard muddied the waters. Three technicals were whistled. A bizarre correctable error fed the SHU comeback effort. The Hall showed grit and fight. Myles Powell went micro-wave(30 points-24 in the second half).Xavier gave up an alarming 65 points after halftime, but they steadied-solved the press-made plays and won it 102-90 to set the stage for Villanova.


Nova is obviously the gold standard in the New BIG EAST(four for four in Regular Season Titles-two BIG Tournament Championships-four NCAA bids-one NCAA Chanpionship in 2016- #1 National Ratings at some point in each of the last three seasons including 8 weeks at #1 so far this season) .

Coach Jay Wright is the constant(17 seasons-over 500 total wins including his time at Hofstra)). His system is ingrained(8 man rotation-diamond press-low fouls-speed up the enemy and run off turnovers-precision offense with extra passes-ball fakes-shot fakes-bounce passes-4 and 5 year players-plenty of three pointers-offensive rebounds off the long shot misses recycling the shot clock frustrating the opponent).

VU has been an XU nemesis(1-9 record). The Muskies are 0-5 in Philadelphia(The annual Philly ass kicking per Chris Mack). The lone win came at Cintas in Feb. 2016 when Xavier upset #1 Villanova 90-83. Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura and Sean O'Mara played in that game. J.P. was huge(19 points-crafty floor game). In 2014 and 2015 XU was competitive but lost in the final war thanks to veteran plays from PG supreme Ryan Arcidiacano and sniper Chris Jenkins.

Last season Villanova won 73-57 in January at Cintas. Trevon went out early with an ankle injury(0 point-0 rebounds). Frosh Donte Divincenzo emerged for VU with a huge game in his first start. he's so good he has two knicknames(The Michael Jordan of Deleware and the Big Ragu).


Villanova sits #3 in the NCAA RPI-#2 in the Coaches' Poll and #3 in AP. They netted a projected #1 NCAA Tourney Seed in last Sunday's Committee projections. VU is 23-3-second behind Xavier in the BIG EAST at 10-3(XU 12-2). The Wildcats lead the NCAA in offensive efficiency(Ken Pomeroy's stats) at 1.30 points/possession. That's a record pace(87PPG-71 Points Against).

Defensively-they've not been as good as usual(6th in the BIG EAST). Injuries have been a factor(Guard Phil Booth-out the last 6 games with a broken shooting hand-12PPG-3 assists-43% from three-starter on their NCAA Title team).

6-6 Forward Eric Paschall(10PPG-5 REBS) returned at Providence(lost 76-71 Wednesday) after missing two games with a concussion. RS Frosh Post Omari Spellman(11PPG-7 Rebs) is still learning the defense. He has NBA talent but not the experience of Daniel Ochefu or Jayvaughn Pinkston or Darryl Reynolds.

The Villanova bench consists of three very talented Freshmen(Guard Collin Gillespie-6-5 Wing Jermaine Samuels and 6-8 BIG Da-DA Cosby Roundtree). They've been learning on the job. Three core stars are playing huge minutes. PG Jalen Brunson(20PPG-5 assists) just dominates the ball(Player of the Year candidate in the BE and nationally). He posts up-passes-drains threes and can score 30 plus if needed.

6-7 Mikal Bridges is a probable NBA Lottery Pick(17PPG-6Rebs).He keys their press and shoots from all over. Divincenzo(6-5) is a ball of energy(30 points recently vs Butler). Vu has lost 2 of 3 falling to St Johns in Philly-then rallying to beat Butler at Wells Fargo-then losing at PC. The Wildcats shoot a lot of threes(46% of their FG tries at a 41% clip). Over the last 3 games they are 17 for 71 outside the arc(26%).

Villanova turned it over 19 times at Providence. Can Xavier stalk the three point line against them Saturday? Will VU return to sniping form from long range? Can XU cancel out their offensive rebounding acumen(not as good without Josh hart and Chris Jenkins). Who knows?

I do know that Xavier is 16-0 at Cintas against a monster schedule. They have won 9 straight in a very tough league. They have four Seniors and a strong supporting cast that want badly to reach a key goal namely a BIG EAST Regular season Title.

Xavier has an edge they need to press inside. They have a better more experienced 9 man rotation especially with Booth presumably "out" for Villanova. A quick start in front of a boisterous record Cintas crowd would help a lot. Nova has been starting slowly lately.

They're still great and talented and maybe NCAA Final Four bound,but so is Xavier and the Muskies own the home court and 1 and a half game leverage in the BIG EAST STANDINGS. Xavier 86 Villanova 81!!! in College Bsaketball's Game of the Week!!

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