Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchups: Xavier vs Villanova

Before every game Rick takes a position-by-position look at what to expect. This edition focuses on the Musketeers' New Years Eve tilt at #16 Villanova.

Edmond Sumner FR (6-6, 183) vs Jalen Brunson FR (6-2, 199)

Sumner's legend continues to grow with each passing game/highlight reel play. He's coming off the best performance of his young career after going for 21 points with nine rebounds, two assists and two steals in the Musketeers' comeback win at Wake Forest. Taking care of the basketball is going to be an even bigger key in this game than it usually is for him, as the Wildcats are going to be heating him up all game with pressure. Brunson is a smart and skilled lead guard with a solid stroke from the perimeter.  He's averaging 11.7 points and 3.1 assists per game, and is coming off his best performance of the season Monday night against Pennsylvania - a 22-point effort on 6-of-10 shooting with five assists. He's averaging 14 points per game over the Wildcats' last four wins and has made 9-of-18 attempts from 3-point range during that stretch. He's not the most athletic player in the world, but he knows how to play on both ends. Sumner's athleticism could end up being a problem for the Wildcats' backcourt if the freshman brings his "A" game again on the road. 

Slight Edge Xavier

Remy Abell SR (6-4, 197) vs Ryan Arcidiacono SR (6-3, 195)

If Villanova sticks with this starting lineup that it used Monday night, then we'll slide Abell in here for matchup purposes. It would seem to make sense to try and cut off the head of the snake, and Arcidiacono fits that billing as the lead playmaker for the Wildcats. Plus, Abell drew the assignment of guarding him at different times in the three matchups last year. On the offensive end, Abell hasn't scored in double figures since the Dayton game, but he's also been very selective with his shot attempts. He's averaging 7.0 points and 2.3 assists per game. He's 4-for-7 from three over the last three games, so if he gets an open look he should be firing with confidence. It's possible the Musketeers could need more ballhandling against Nova's pressure, which may eat into his minutes as he had five turnovers at Wake Forest. Arcidiacono is a great lead guard, but he's playing off the ball a little more often this year with the freshman Brunson in the lineup. Last year's co-Big East Player of the Year has been just as efficient with his playmaking this season though, piling up 53 assists compared to only 13 turnovers. He's averaging 11.9 points, 4.4 assists and 2.2 rebounds in 28.9 minutes per game. He's tremendous at creating shots for himself or teammates in ball-screen situations. He's also one of the few players on this Villanova team shooting well from the outside right now (20-54, 37%). On the other end of the court, he's a conscientious defender that plays well within Nova's system, but he's just average defending on the ball. 

Moderate Edge Villanova

Myles Davis JR (6-2, 188) vs Phil Booth SO (6-3, 185)

Davis is averaging 10.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. After playing well against Cincinnati with a season-high 17 points, he's been in a little bit of a shooting funk the last two games, finishing a combined 4-for-16 from the field and 2-for-9 from 3-point range against Auburn and Wake Forest. Last year, he had 12 points on 3-of-7 shooting at The Pavilion, but then struggled in the next two games against Nova. Booth is a smooth combo guard with handle and feel. He's averaging 7.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 23.9 minutes per game. The Wildcats had been playing a little bit bigger with Kris Jenkins in the starting lineup alongside Josh Hart, but Jay Wright made the lineup switch last game and his team responded with a strong start on the defensive end. Booth isn't a great athlete, but he's athletic enough to break defenders down and get into the lane. Last year, he shot the ball well from the outside (48.5%), but this year he's struggling from deep, hitting at just a 27.3 percent clip. 

Slight Edge Xavier

Trevon Bluiett SO (6-6, 208) vs Josh Hart JR (6-5, 202)

Bluiett has had a strong start to the year, averaging a team-high 14.7 points per game to go with 7.7 rebounds while shooting 44.9 percent from 3-point range. He struggled early against Wake Forest but then turned it on to start the second half and was a big part of the Musketeers' quick comeback, finishing with 17 points and nine boards. Abell will probably draw this assignment on defense when they go a little bigger and put Jenkins in the game, but it's likely Bluiett will have to guard him at times. Hart is a tough, versatile and skilled wing that does a little bit of everything. He's averaging a team-high 14.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, while shooting a team-best 37.7 percent from 3-point range. He likes to catch and shoot with his feet set, but he's also a crafty scorer off the bounce and in transition. He's a high-level defender with a knack for making "key" plays. This should be a tremendous matchup between two really good wing/forwards when they are paired up against each other. If the game were being played at Xavier, Bluiett would probably get the slight edge, but since it's at Nova the advantage goes to Hart. 

Slight Edge Villanova

Jalen Reynolds JR (6-10, 238) vs Daniel Ochefu SR (6-11, 245)

With Reynolds' up-and-down start to the season, it's easy at times to lose sight of the fact that he's averaging 10.3 points and 6.2 rebounds in 19 minutes per game. And there's a little added reason for optimism about Reynolds in this matchup: not only is it a huge road game for the Musketeers, which is the type of situation that has brought the best out of him in the past, but he was also the only XU player who fared well against the Wildcats last year. He was in double figures in all three games. He had 14 points and 13 rebounds in the game at Villanova, 15 points and six boards at Cintas, and 13 points and four boards at Madison Square Garden. He seemed to really enjoy the matchup against Ochefu, and the Musketeers did a great job of exploiting Nova's switches when Reynolds had a bad matchup on him. Ochefu is a long and fairly agile big man with a good motor. He's averaging 9.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, and has recorded four double-doubles, including a 12-point, 10-rebound effort on Monday night against Penn. Much like Reynolds, he's struggled with consistency, and even foul trouble at times this season. Over the years, he's developed some solid back to the basket moves, and his teammates do a good job of finding him on cuts or as the roll man on ball-screens. Defensively, when he's locked in he can be a difference-maker with his 7-foot-4 wingspan.

Slight Edge Xavier

Xavier Bench vs Villanova Bench

James Farr (6-10, 244) is averaging 10.3 points and 8.7 rebounds in 20 minutes per game. He had 12 points and nine rebounds in a season-high 26 minutes at Wake Forest. His rebounding could play a huge role in this game as Villanova lacks size, frontcourt depth and rebounding ability. JP Macura (6-5, 203) is averaging 8.9 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 20 minutes per game. Somehow, he's become a super steady player who provides a solid floor game with some defensive playmaking but little scoring over the last three games. However, it's worth noting that he went 4-for-8 from 3-point range at The Pavilion last year, finishing with 14 points and four rebounds. Junior forward Kris Jenkins (6-6, 240) is coming off a sprained knee suffered on December 22 against Delaware. He returned and played 19 minutes with two points and three rebounds Monday night against Penn. He provides some scoring pop to Nova's lineup at the four, even though he's shooting a surprisingly low 28.8 percent from three on the year. He's averaging 10.2 points and 3.0 rebounds in 24.2 minutes per game. Redshirt freshman Mikal Bridges (6-7, 191) is a versatile wing that adds length and athleticism on defense, where's he's particularly good on the top of the press, and slashing ability on offense. Forty of his 65 shot attempts have come from beyond the arc this year where he's shooting just 27 percent, but he's a good finisher in transition or when he's found cutting to the rim. He's averaging 7.1 points and 3.7 rebounds in 19.8 minutes per game. Junior Darryl Reynolds (6-8, 225) provides the Wildcats with another bigger body in an otherwise small rotation. He's not much of an impact player though, averaging 2.3 points and 3.9 rebounds in 16.5 minutes per game. When he's on the court, the Musketeers need to take advantage by attacking him in the post and crashing the glass hard. 

Slight Edge Xavier

Overall

The Wildcats were averaging 31 attempts from distance per game entering Monday night's tilt against Penn, but went just 1-for-11 from beyond the arc against the Quakers, making a concerted effort to get to the free throw line more often (41 attempts). For the season, Nova is shooting 31 percent from 3-point range as a team. That's a big difference from the "spread-you-out and nail 38.9 percent from deep" attack the Wildcats trotted out last year against the Musketeers. The departures of "Xavier Killer" Dylan Ennis, versatile and skilled wing Darrun Hilliard and power forward JayVaughn Pinkston from the their roster combined with Xavier's new smaller and more versatile lineup would seem to change the dynamics of this game completely. Nova will play mostly a switching man-to-man defense, but they've also played about 20 percent 2-3 zone this season. Also, expect them to use their 3/4 court 1-2-2 press early and often, trying to trap and overwhelm Sumner. In addition to Xavier's ability to handle that pressure, another huge key will be the Wildcats' ability to keep the Musketeers off the defensive glass. Xavier ranks 17th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage, while Villanova ranks 269th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage. Other than that, it's going to come down to whether or not X can make shots on the road. 

Score prediction: Xavier 74 Villanova 72


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