Two elite, Big East, teams depleted by injuries and other personnel losses faced off today at the Cintas Center in a game with major implications in the race for the Big East regular season championship. Villanova used gritty defense and a balanced offensive attack to grab an impressive 73-57 win over Xavier and take a strangle-hold on first place in the conference. Will the compound effect of the Wildcat’s injuries prove significant enough for the Cats to lose grip of a potential, fourth consecutive league championship?
Months back, Villanova expected the trio of Omari Spellman, Phil Booth and Darryl Reynolds to be integral parts of the Wildcat rotation at this stage of the season. None of them could play for ‘Nova today - nor could Tim Delaney (out for the season after another hip surgery). Spellman was ruled ineligible by the NCAA, Phil Booth has been out since November with a knee injury and is not expected to return this season, and Darryl Reynolds is now day-to-day with a rib injury. Xavier expected Edmond Sumner, Myles Davis and Trevon Bluiett to be major cogs in the Musketeer rotation. Davis left the program after playing a handful of mid-season games, Sumner is out with an ACL injury for the remainder of the season and Bluiett re-injured an ankle early in the game today - resulting in him only being able to limp through about 19 ineffective minutes of action.
Two of the teams expected to carry the torch for the Big East in the NCAA Tournament with high seeds and talented squads capable of deep tournament runs are now using tape, glue and make-shift line-ups to try to squeeze out every win they can down the stretch.
The Wildcats played more zone defense tin this game than has been their norm. ‘Nova was very aggressive in the passing lanes, doubled ball-handlers, and did an excellent job of supporting each other with help defense. The downfall on defense for the Cats was the inability to keep Xavier from grabbing a ton of offensive rebounds - the Musketeers corralled over 51% of their misses. However, the pressure and aggressiveness of the Villanova defense contributed to Xavier shooting the ball poorly from all over the court.
On the offensive end, Villanova shared the ball beautifully. As a team, they drove the ball to the rim repeatedly to score in the paint. Kris Jenkins and Donte DiVincenzo stroked the deep three with confidence to provide floor balance for the penetration of Brunson and Hart. The confidence and teamwork exhibited by the Cats on the offensive end was impressive given how little margin for error ‘Nova had with only seven scholarship players available.
- Fabulous team effort on both ends of the court
- 18 Assists with only 6 Turnovers
- Balanced scoring - 5 players in double-figures
- FT shooting: 10-11 (90.9%) for ‘Nova vs. 9-17 (52.9%) for Xavier
- 1.26 points per possession for Villanova
- Held X to 0.98 points per possession, 28.6% 3PFG and 38.5% 2PFG
- 64.3% 2PFG, 37.5% 3PFG, 51.9% FG
- 30-28 advantage in points in the paint
- +10 advantage in points off turnovers
- Without a true post-player, Cats allowed 22 O-boards for Xavier
- Total rebounds: 42-26 in favor of Xavier
- -7 in second-chance points
- -11 in bench points (not surprising)
Josh Hart (36 Min, 11 Points, 5-11 FG, 1-5 3PFG, 0-0 FTs, 7 Rebounds, 5 Assists, 1 Turnovers, 4 Steals, 0 Blocks, 104 ORtg) Considering Hart shot 1-5 from three-point range, didn’t get to the FT line and scored “only” 11 points - someone who hadn’t watched the game may assume that he played a mediocre game for a national player of the year candidate. What he actually did was occupy a ton of attention from the Xavier defense, play great defense of his own, and grab more D-boards than any other Cat could muster. His lone three-ball came on a key possession in the second half - he also scored from mid-range and at the rim at critical junctures. Hart took care of the ball and was able to draw the Musketeer defense to him and then locate teammates for good looks at the rim. He dominated the game in many respects without dominating the ball. That is elite.
Kris Jenkins (35 Min, 12 Points, 4-7 FG, 4-7 3PFG, 0-1 FT, 5 Rebounds, 4 Assists, 2 Steals, 1 Block, 0 Turnovers, 160 ORtg) Jenkins picked the perfect game to get dialed back in from three-point range. Though he did not take any two-point shots, he did use his pump fake and the dribble-drive as a way to get the Xavier defense to react and then either draw the foul or find a teammate. His lone trip to the free-throw line came on a miss of an “and-one” after he banked in a three-pointer through contact in the first half.
Mikal Bridges (34 Min, 10 points, 4-8 FGs, 1-5 3PFG, 1-1 FTs, 2 Rebounds, 1 Assists, 1 Turnovers, 0 Steals, 2 Blocks,106 ORtg) The first bucket of the game for ‘Nova was a Mikal Bridges, corner three-ball. Though he would miss the remainder of his three-point attempts, Bridges contributed plenty of defensive effort and slithered his way to the rim on several occasions to keep the Musketeers at arms length through the second-half. The boxscore doesn’t reflect the amount of value Bridges added to the defensive effort.
Jalen Brunson (36 Min, 17 Points, 6-14 FGs, 0-3 3PFG, 5-5 FTs, 4 Rebounds, 7 Assists, 2 Turnovers, 1 Steal, 116 ORtg) A scintillating performance for the Soph PG in this one. When the Cats needed a bucket, he found a way to get to the rim and finish, run a good set to get a clean look for the Cats, or find a teammate working the baseline for a dunk. 7 dimes with only 2 turnovers are indicative of the quality of the floor game Brunson played. Massive BB IQ.
Eric Paschall (24 Min, 6 Points, 3-4 FGs, 0-0 3PFG, 0-0 FT, 3 Rebounds, 0 Assists, 0 Turnovers, 0 Steals, 1 Block, 169 ORtg) Paschall was forced into the starting 5-man spot and was able to use his athleticism and strength to provide a positive effort. Moving forward, he will need to be a little less aggressive on the reach-ins and leaning in with his upper body and arms when defending the post. ‘Nova can’t afford for him to get in significant foul trouble. Paschall needs to find a way to hold down the fort until Reynolds can get back in the mix.
Donte DiVincenzo (32 Min, 17 Points, 5-7 FG, 3-4 3PFG, 4-4 FT, 2 Rebounds, 1 Assist, 2 Turnovers, 1 Steal, 0 Blocks, 142 ORtg) One of the primary reasons that Villanova has been able to stay toward the top of the AP rankings all year is the confident play of Donte DiVincenzo. He drained a quick release, wing three-ball, he finished a baseline alley-oop play, he pump faked his man in the air and confidently maneuvered around him to create space for a dead-eye, pull-up jumper on an important second-half possession … and more … and he does all this without hesitation. He exhibits an impressive amount of confidence for a redshirt Frosh.
Dylan Painter (3 Min, 0 Points, 2 Rebounds) Painter played with confidence and energy in his three minutes. He played good positional defense and chipped in on the glass.
Villanova (#2 AP, 24-2 overall, 11-2 Big East) faces DePaul in Chicago on Monday night.