#3 Villanova Wildcats (15-1) vs. #15 Xavier Musketeers (13-2)
When: Tuesday, January 10, 2017, at 7:00 p.m.
Where: The Pavilion, Villanova, Pa.
Coverage: Fox Sports 1
KenPom Prediction: 76-68, Villanova (78%)
Xavier’s Previous Season Record: 28-6, Lost to Wisconsin in Second Round of NCAA Tournament
Key Players for Xavier: #4 Edmond Sumner (6-6, 186) So., G; #5 Trevon Bluiett (6-6, 205) Jr., G; #55 J.P. Macura (6-5, 205) Jr., G
Scouting Report: Coach Chris Mack has been very successful since being named head coach of the Musketeers in 2009. He has led Xavier to six NCAA Tournament berths in a seven year stretch, including three Sweet 16 appearance. So far, the Musketeers look like a serious threat in the Big East after winning their first three games within the conference. Xavier boasts one of the best offenses in the country, ranking 22nd in efficiency according to KenPom. The offense is led by backcourt tandem of Edmond Sumner and Trevon Bluiett. Sumner comes into the contest averaging 15.6 points per game along with averaging close to five rebounds and assists per game. He can do a little of everything for Xavier. Sumner presents mismatches for Villanova’s defense with his long frame as a point guard. He uses his 6-foot-5 frame along with unparalleled quickness to attack and finish at the basket, along with getting to free throw line (averaging 6.4 free throw attempts per game). Defenders can sag off of him at the perimeter, as he’s primarily a slasher-type player. Defensively, Sumner’s long frame allows him to match up with multiple positions on the perimeter as he is averaging 1.5 steals per game and has the quick hand to get into passing lanes.
As for Bluiett, he’s continuing a trend that he started since his freshman year. He is the Musketeers top scorer again, averaging 17.7 points per game. He can score from virtually anywhere, although he is a little streaky from long range. Bluiett is capable of creating his own shot and his quick release helps with that. Stepping into a feature role this season is J.P. Macura, who was the team’s sixth man last year. He’s the third and final player that averages at least double figures, with 14.7 points per game. He is the Musketeers most effective shooter from the line, converting 87.3 percent of his free throws. However, his biggest contribution to the Xavier Musketeers is being aggressive on offense and defense. Nicknamed “Dennis the Menace,” you rarely see Macura give up on a play as he hustles after loose balls and offensive rebounds. This aggressive style of play has made Macura the leader on the team in steals (1.9 steals per game) and one of the more effective rebounders (4.5 rebounds per game) on the Musketeers. He is known as someone that you would love to have on you team, but would hate to play against him. He used to be a three-point threat, but he’s seemed to have lost some of that magic.
Also, be on the look out for Rashid Gaston, a senior transfer from Norfolk State. In a lineup dominated by guards and limited upfront, the senior forward has made his presence felt in the paint. He leads Xavier in rebounds with 6.3 per game and is ranked 15th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, according to KenPom. Then there’s Malcolm Bernard, senior graduate transfer from Charleston Southern and Florida A&M. He was brought in to be a defensive presence and a three-point shooter as he has definitely lived up to the billing.
Lastly, this is the first game back for Myles Davis. Davis was suspended indefinitely before the season in light of a domestic violence dispute over the summer with a former girlfriend. Now, he’s back. Davis had been a staple at guard for the past couple of years and was one of the instrumental pieces in the Musketeers’ historic season. Last season he averaged just under 11 points per game and shot just below 40 percent from deep.
Overall, the Musketeers are one of the most efficient offensive teams in Division-I College Basketball. They use their length and quickness to score from the rim and draw fouls to get to the free throw line. They limit turnovers and get second-chance opportunities. The three-point shot is a glaring weakness for Xavier as they shoot an uninspiring 34.7 percent from the three-point line. Defensively, they are disciplined team as they force tough shots and rarely commit fouls.
Outlook: Xavier heads into Tuesday’s matchup against Villanova, 3-0 in the Big East play. Despite having issues with the frontcourt early on, the Musketeers are 18th in rebounding margin (+8.1 rebounds per game). Darryl Reynolds will have to hold his own in the paint and fight for rebounds and limit Xavier’s possessions. Sophomore transfer forward Eric Paschall and guard Donte DiVincenzo will need to use their size and athleticism as well to grab rebounds. For this matchup, Mikal Bridges will need to be critical in Tuesday night’s game, forcing Xavier’s guards to shoot jumpers. Jalen Brunson will be the smallest guy on the court and his ability to knock down perimeter shots as well as finishing at the rim on layups will be instrumental in this matchup. In a big matchup like the one coming Tuesday night, Josh Hart will need to look like a National Player of the Year candidate and Kris Jenkins has to knock shots from three-point range and mid-range. Maybe Villanova still has some leftover magic after shooting a blazing 60 percent on the floor and from beyond the arc against Marquette…