#16 Villanova Wildcats (10-2) vs. #6 Xavier Musketeers (12-0)
When: Thursday, December 31, 2015, at 12 p.m.
Where: The Pavilion
Coverage: Fox Sports 1
Xavier’s Previous Season Record: 23-14, Lost in Sweet 16
Key Players for Xavier: #5 Trevon Bluiett (6-6, 207) So., G/F; #15 Myles Davis (6-2, 188) Jr., G; #2 James Farr (6-10, 247) Sr., F/C
Scouting Report: The #6 Xavier Musketeers will travel to the Pavilion on Thursday to kick off Big East regular season play against the #16 Villanova Wildcats. The Musketeers are undefeated so far this year and pose a serious threat to Villanova’s Pavilion winning streak. The Wildcats haven’t seen a loss at the Pavilion since Providence beat them back on February 3, 2013. The Musketeers will try to break that.
Xavier’s out of conference schedule has consisted of mostly power conference teams whom they have beat handily. Villanova is in an unfamiliar position, opening conference play as the fourth-highest ranked team in the Big East. Last season the Wildcats swept Xavier, winning all three games by double digits.
The Musketeers are led by sophomore swing man Trevon Bluiett. Bluiett has made great strides from his standout freshman campaign and has turned himself into a key cog for one of the best teams in the country. His unique combination of size and skill have allowed him to average 14.7 points per game this year. Between his 6-foot-6 frame and lightning quick release, Bluiett is able to get his shot off against almost any defender, allowing him to connect on 44.9% of his threes this season. Bluiett also has fluid handles that allow him to get to the rim and create space for his jump shot. There are very few Big East players who are better isolation scorers than Bluiett. Although Bluiett is just an average defender (.8 steals per game and three career blocks), he has chipped in 7.7 rebounds per game in 2015.
Xavier’s bread and butter has been on the glass this year. The Musketeers are the 14th best rebounding team in the country at 42.9 boards per game, 14.1 of which come on the offensive end. James Farr and Jalen Reynolds both snatch over 2.5 offensive rebounds per game. Farr anchors the 35th best defensive team in the country with 1.3 blocks per game. Reynolds, a junior forward, is posting career highs in points and rebounds. The two bigs also show great touch around the rim and away from the basket, combing for 71.2% free throw percentage.
The Musketeers’ back court consists of Edmund Sumner and Myles Davis. The two combine for 22.6 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game, 6.3 assists per game, and 38.6% shooting from long range. Sumner has impressed as a freshman, but has also had some growing pains as well. The point guard averages 2.6 turnovers per game and shoots below 70% from the charity stripe. Davis is setting career marks in pretty much every meaningful statistical category and makes a killing at the line. The junior has missed just 17 free throws in the past two years.
This Xavier team has definitely earned its undefeated record and is no joke. Despite playing the ninth hardest division 1 schedule to date, The Musketeers have beaten their opponents by an average of 17.9 points per game. Only Wake Forest has managed to finish with in single digits of Xavier, losing by eight last week. Xavier is 2-0 against ranked opponents, beating both foes by double digits.
Outlook: A few weeks ago, I called for some lineup tweaks for the ‘Cats. It appears as though Jay Wright has done just that, starting Phil Booth in place of Kris Jenkins against Penn, amidst Jenkins’ recent knee injury. It should be interesting to see if this becomes a long-term move for ‘Nova, as Jenkins hasn’t been the most efficient on the court. Though Jenkins is averaging over 10 points per game this season, he’s only shooting 28.8% from long range. He was stagnant on the offensive end, not moving much and rushing up a lot of early shot clock threes. On the defensive end his production is almost identical to the production of the much smaller Booth, with an average of three boards per game. I actually think Mikal Bridges could be an interesting start in this one. Bridges’ offensive game is very much a work in progress, but his defense and size will be vital against a much larger Xavier team.
Daniel Ochefu’s play has quieted down. If you take out the first three games of the year (all blowout victories where Ochefu had double-doubles), Ochefu is averaging just 7.67 points per game and 6.44 rebounds per game in just 20.8 minutes per game. These numbers are much closer to his sophomore campaign than they are the performance he put together last year. It’s still early in the season, but regression is never a good thing. It appears for now, that the Chef may have hit his ceiling. Ochefu has also struggled with fouls this season. He’s averaging 2.6 fouls per game, has had three or more fouls in six games, and fouled out against Virginia. If Villanova is going to have any chance on Thursday, he has to stay on the court. Villanova doesn’t have much depth to offer in the front court, especially if Jenkins is not fully healthy.
It breaks my heart, but I do not see Villanova coming out with a win in this one. Xavier is rolling on all cylinders, and the Wildcats have looked shaky at best against the nation’s top tier teams. You have to expect that trend to continue until the ‘Cats turn it around. In five games against power conference opponents, Villanova has been out rebounded 206-148. It will take a great effort to keep a top notch offensive rebounding team like Xavier off the glass. A win would be a great way to make a statement and start off conference play, but Xavier just has too many weapons.