By Andy Mac Williams, 1/18/2019

The answer is obvious. Villanova( back in the AP Top 25 at #22)is the lone BIG EAST unbeaten at 4-0 with wins over DePaul, Providence at the Dunk, St Johns and most recently Sunday in Omaha 90-78 over Creighton. #15 Marquette is solo 2nd(4-1) with Xavier alone in 3rd(3-2). The Muskies make their annual trip to Villanova Friday night(8:30 Tip-FS1) hoping-NO!-planning to reverse a short but nasty recent trend. XU has lost all five to VU in Philly since the dawning of the New BIG EAST in 2014. None of the games have been competitive after half time. Chris Mack referred to this spot on the schedule as "Our Annual Philadelphia Ass Kicking" and he was not exaggerating!! Xavier is 1-10 vs Nova in 5 BE seasons. Not good, but no shame as Jay Wright's well oiled Wildcats are 178-25 with two NCAA Titles(2016 and 2018) in the last 5+ seasons(#1 overall record in NCAA-better than Duke and Kansas and North Carolina and Gonzaga). Villanova is the gold standard-the bench mark-the yard stick-the Cadillac. X gets to measure themselves against THE BEST every year two and sometimes three times.

It's Coach Travis Steele's first shot at VU as head man. He's changing everything including the hotel-the bus company-the evening before activities. He'd change time zones and zip codes if possible. It's a huge challenge. KenPom picks Villanova 73-63 giving Xavier a minute 18% chance to win. The Vegas line is 10+ points. Muskie players started second semester classes Monday and had a brief shoot around in the wake of last Sunday afternoon's stirring 70-69 come-from-behind(down 10 with 4 minutes to play) win over Butler at Cintas.

Tuesday was an off-day. Wednesday-back to full practice with PG Quentin Gooden participating after missing the Georgetown and Butler wins with a sore knee. Thursday is practice at home then travel to Philadelphia. No event is scheduled for the Wells Fargo Center so maybe a quick Shoot Around at the massive 20,000 seat second home for Villanova. Practice tone set by Travis was excellent-upbeat and optimistic. The players embraced the message-listened well and went hard. The chances of winning are a lot better than 18% IMHO. They are 100% if X rings up a victory.


Gooden may be available. He could ease into PT coming off the bench??? Kyle Castlin is excited to be playing Villanova at Wells Fargo. He was working on a career game vs VU last November playing for Columbia. In 22 minutes Kyle had scored 10 with 7 rebounds and 4 assists. He was undercut on a drive to the basket by Donte DeVincenzo-hurt his elbow then missed 10 games. It's unfinished business for Castlin and he's coming off his best game as a Muskie(12 points-7 rebounds-3 assists and a late game tying "three" against Butler that set the stage for Naji Marshall's winning FT).

Steele may try to squeeze extra minutes out of his BIG LINE-UP with Tyrique Jones and Zach Hankins playing together. VU's small ball approach and three point sniping could limit that option? Without foul trouble-expect Marshall and Paul Scruggs to play close to 40 minutes each. Both were special in the Butler win. A winning template is unfolding for Xavier. Inside-out offense-winning the free throw and rebound numbers(28 offensive boards total vs Georgetown and Butler)-lower turnovers(4-G-town, 10 Butler)-low fouls-switching defenses between pack line and zone with a little press tossed in.

Steele does not discourage three point tries. He just wants them to come off patient inside-out action with Scruggs(46%) and Welage(39%) taking the lion's share outside the arc. Villanova pings the ball around rapidly probing for open threes. Their PGs Collin Gillespie and Jahvon Quinerly drive to the paint-play off two feet and spray the ball to the open wings or corners.

X needs consistent excellent disciplined close-outs on the three point shooters and everybody is a threat for Nova. That means be there with high hands-feet on the ground-screaming on the catch. VU will still make shots, but not as many hopefully. Offensively, Xavier needs to be poised and patient and confident and attack the rim out of the Villanova traps. The orders are clear. Consistent execution is the key.


The pundits were writing Villanova off early. Poor Nova. They went 36-4(All four losses in the BIG EAST, by the way!!!) and took home their second NCAA Title in two years, but they lost Jalen Brunson(PG and National Player of the Year), Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman and Donte DeVincenzo(Final 4 MVP) to the NBA. VU had early losses at home to Michigan(BIG TEN leader 17-0-Top 2 NCAA) and Furman in OT. They lost a BIG FIVE game at Penn then almost beat Kansas on the road. Boom! Gone from the Top 25. Villanova bounced back quickly, Jay Wright is riding 5th year guys Phil Booth(two NCAA Titles) and Eric Paschal (Fordham transfer 4 years ago) playing them 38 minutes/game in BIG EAST.

Booth is averaging 22PPG in the conference-making threes from all over and scoring consistently off the dribble. Paschall is a burly 6-8 250 at 20PPG in Big East plus 9 rebounds. His outside shooting is deadly now. RS Sophomore Gillespie is a leader-glue guy(11PPG-smart plays-post-ups-unafraid in traffic). 5 Star Frosh Quinerly is coming on after tough early lessons well learned. He and Gillespie now play some together.

Quinerly is a jet and a solid shooter too. That's why Sean Miller(Arizona) wanted him for his Vulcan mind link lead guard coach on the floor until the FBI investigation ruined Sean's recruiting class. 6-7 Frosh Wing Saddiq Bey has been starting. He is old school and makes veteran plays on both ends of the floor.

It's either Jermaine Samuels or Dahir Cosby-Roundtree at the five. Both are Sophomores. Cosby-RT has had a sore leg. Samuels gives Wright a more mobile small ball switch-every ball screen line-up. Cosby-RT may be needed more against the burly Muskie BIGS.

Other bench players include grad transfer Joe Cremo(Albany-18PPG). He is solid and a potential shooter and 6-6 Frosh Cole Swidder whom XU recruited heavily. He has not broken out yet. Villanova is different with less size(No Spellman nor Ochefu nor Reynolds nor Pinkston to patrol the paint). Their offensive rebounding is not as consistent without Josh Hart and Bridges.

VU has not used the 1-2-2 press nearly as much to speed teams up and create live ball fast break buckets. They zone more and play switching man less so far. Expect morphing zone against Xavier with the Muskies' spotty three point shooting numbers.

Villanova is very good with plenty of upside and a demanding coach in Jay Wright who knows how to improve and will work the process. Nova has plunged the dagger into Xavier early every time in 0-5 Philly trips twice they took out Edmund Sumner(concussion and shoulder). Three pointers have rained in. X has been hesitant and uneasy.

The Muskies have more leverage this time with their 3 gritty comeback BE wins-more size and muscle than VU and more guard size. Villanova blew out Creighton in the second half Sunday in Omaha, Impressive, but CU does not guard well. VU has been forced to comeback late to beat DePaul and St Johns in Philly. They went through a long scoring drought in the second half and almost blew a huge lead at Providence. But Nova usually finds a way to get the win.

Paschal, Booth and Gillespie are given good. The rest of the pieces are starting to fit. X needs a quality Top 50 NET road win and some good fortune against Villanova. Stats and history really mean little. Interesting but almost irrelevant!! As Travis Steele says, it's "JUST US" players and coaches and it's all about what "US" does especially on the defensive end. Damn the experts and the pundits and the power ratings. Xavier controls the narrative and I like the story. Muskies 72 Villanova 68. Watch that NET number jump!!


St Johns hammered Creighton 81-66 in Queens. Shamorie Bonds scored 22 after missing a game with back spasms. STJ is 3-3 BE. Creighton is 1-4. Butler won at DePaul 82-69.Duke transfer Jordan Tucker did not start for BU, but scored 19 off the bench with 8 rebounds after playing well at Xavier Sunday. Both Butler and De Paul are now 2-3 in the BIG EAST. Brad Redford and I have a new podcast at including an interview with XU asst coach Dante Lawrence Jackson.

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