By Andy Mac Williams, 2/22/2019

The Villanova Wildcats are hands down the best college basketball program in the country over the past 6 seasons. There's no debate. Dicky "V" and Jay Bilas can trumpet the Dukies. BIG 12 devotees can put forth Kansas. You have your "Luv ya Big Blue" zealots at Kentucky and your Carolina believers. Just look at the numbers!! Two NCAA Titles in the last three seasons-4 BIG EAST regular season championships(Xavier beat out Villanova last year by 1 game)-3 BIG EAST Tournament titles and a 185-28 overall record since the dawning of the New BIG EAST(87% Wins-best in the NCAA). Coach Jay Wright is no empty silk suiter. He has a plan he repeats year after year plugging in great player after great player-getting his guys to sublimate themselves to team goals.

Travis Steele said it well the other day. Nova is primarily known for their skill(great ball movement-amazing three point shooting-finishing on the fast break),but they win consistently because of their hustle(on defense-on 50-50 balls-on those long shot miss offensive rebounds).

Xavier's been pretty good since joining the BIG EAST(5 for 5 in NCAA bids-an Elite 8 and two Sweet 16s). The Muskies are 1-11 vs Villanova in that span. The word domination fits re what VU does to everybody including Xavier.

Nova this season(20-7, 11-3 BIG EAST #17 AP Top 25) does the same Nova stuff. They shoot a zillion threes(53.7% of their shot attempts come from outside the arc #2 NCAA).

Wright plays an 8 man rotation. His team thrives on offensive rebounds leading to open scramble threes. VU employs the 1-2-2 press to speed you up. Their guards jump stop in the paint-play off both feet and look to spray to open shooters. Everybody bounce passes and shot fakes. Their fundamentals are rock solid.

VU lost 4 stars from their 2018 NCAA Title team to the NBA. Wright surely expected Brunson and Bridges to go pro after winning two championships. He might have thought DeVincenzo and Spellman would be back but that Title got them mega exposure. So Villanova(2018-2019) lost 4 games in the non-conference and the pundits labelled them DOA-RIP.

They lost their first back to back games in 5 years. Then the Wildcats confounded the bracketologists and won their first 10 BIG EAST games. Most recently VU has lost 3 of 4 in the league(tough road tilts at Maquette(by 1) at St Johns in front of an MSG sell-out(by 6-blowing a 17 point lead) and last Wednesday in DC 85-73 to Georgetown.

Now they play Xavier Sunday afternoon at Cintas(1:30 PM-CBS Channel 12 locally).


VU has not lost 3 games in a row since January of 2013 playing in the Old BIG EAST("Ls" to Syracuse, Pitt and PC). They are playing more zone this year and pressing less(lack of size? lack of interior experience? more foul trouble?). There are fewer fast break lay-ups and dunks and Nova is not as good at getting back vs opponent's transition game. Overall defensive efficiency is Top 75 but not the usual Top 15.

Wright can't space the floor with 5 outside shooters(4-sometimes 3). Teams can now zone Villanova without being totally annihilated. Shagging those long offensive rebounds isn't as automatic now without Bridges and Josh Hart etc.

Most BIG possessions now go through the two 5th year Seniors guard Phil Booth(19PPG) and muscular forward Eric Paschall(17PPG). RS Soph guard Colin Gillespie(11PPG) has been terrific as a 3rd option. He rained in 6 threes for 18 points in Nova's 85-75 win over Xavier in Philadelphia.

Gillespie is in a mini slump(7PPG over last 4 w/ VU going 1-3). In the previous 3 games Gillespie averaged 18+PPG and VU went 3-0. It's trouble to extrapolate continued poor performance for a program as consistently good and resilient as Villanova. Gillespie will rediscover his shot, but hopefully not in Cincinnati.

Villanova is just 20 for 73 from three in their last two games(losses to St Johns and Georgetown(27%). They'll want to jack up 30+ threes vs Xavier. It's up to the Muskies to run them off the arc-contest every try and focus every trip. Xavier gave up 15 made threes at Villanova. That number has to be 10 or less at Cintas.

The Muskies have the edge inside. Tyrique Jones put up huge numbers in Philly(21 points-12 rebounds).Zach Hankins prospered, but struggled defending Villanova's flurry of ball screens. Zach and Ty are playing better and better in tandem. VU BIGS Cosby-Roundtree and Samuels get into foul trouble a lot. Paschal avoids it usually.

X could use a return to scoring form from Paul Scruggs. He's a 43% shooter from three and a load of a post-up guard, but he's scored just 10 points total during the three game Muskie winning streak(averages 12.5PPG). Both benches have struggled to produce consistently.

For Xavier Elias Harden seems to be playing more and has Coach Steele's trust. Kyle Castlin is solid defensively and on the glass,but does not shoot it with confidence. Ryan Welage needs to stick a few threes(like 2 or 3) if Steele can get him looks against the Nova zone.

Naji Mashall is the pivotal player(87 points-last 4 games w/ great defense against Alpha Diallo of PC and Myles Powell of Seton Hall). Does he guard Booth or Paschal vs Villanova. The Core 4 all need to perform near peak efficiency and avoid foul trouble to beat Villanova Sunday.

X was competitive for 30+ minutes while losing 85-75 in Philadelphia. Fewer threes allowed-a dedication to the inside game and solid box outs after those long VU threes cutting down on their offensive rebounds produces a 4th straight Xavier win and their third straight NCAA NET Quad 1 victory following the "Ws: at PC and Seton Hall.


The Running Man logo is back for XU. Mario Mercurio and Nike have come up with neat unis for this game. Xavier first wore the Running Man during the 1983-84 season-my first year associated with the program. We put together a 12 game local TV package on Channel 19(something new for XU) and we moved the radio games to 700 WLW. The Muskies won two NIT games in front of huge Cincinnati Gardens crowds then lost a one point game at Michigan. A watershed season!!

Villanova will wear their navy blue road uniforms from 1985(the year they upset Georgetown and Patrick Ewing for the NCAA Title at Rupp Arena in Lexington). Special outfits for hopefully a special Muskie effort and a massive win over a terrfific opponent.

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