Edmond Sumner FR (6-6, 183) vs Jalen Brunson FR (6-2, 199)
Sumner only made it through two minutes before he was knocked out of the game at Villanova to open Big East play, but he did hit a corner three before he left. It will be interesting to see what his presence in the lineup does to the matchups. He's been great the last three games, but especially in Saturday's career-high 22-point performance on 6-of-9 shooting with three assists, two rebounds and no turnovers in the win over Georgetown. For the season, he's averaging 11.4 points, 3.2 assists, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.3 steals in 25.3 minutes per game, while shooting 43.2 percent from the field, including 35 percent on 60 attempts from 3-point range. Brunson is a skilled guard with a really high IQ, but he's not an exceptional athlete. He didn't start and only played 17 minutes in the first Xavier game due to a stomach virus, but he's started every other game this season and is averaging 10.6 points, 2.7 assists and 1.9 rebounds in 24.9 minutes. He's also shooting 44.9 percent from the field, including 37.8 percent on 98 attempts from 3-point range. He's 5-for-7 from deep over the last two games, and posted a career-high 25 points last week (9-11 FG, 4-5 3PT) in a win at Temple.
Slight Edge Xavier
Remy Abell SR (6-4, 195) vs Ryan Arcidiacono SR (6-3, 195)
Abell played 31 minutes and was 2-of-4 from the floor with six points, two assists, a steal, and a rebound in the first game against Villanova. Over the last three games, he's been playing with a lot more confidence on the offensive end, even though he struggled with his shot against Georgetown. For the season, he's averaging 6.1 points, 1.6 assists, and 1.4 rebounds, and is shooting 33.9 percent on 56 attempts from 3-point range. Last time, he didn't have much success defending Arcidiacono, mostly due to the fact that Arcidiacono was on fire. Arcidiacono plays with a ton of confdence against the Musketeers. He lit them up for 27 points on 10-of-19 shooting, including 7-of-14 from 3-point range on New Year's Eve. He also had eight assists and two steals. On the defensive end, he guarded Abell in that game. For the season, he's averaging 12.0 points, 4.3 assists, and 2.8 rebounds in 31.5 minutes per game, while shooting 42.3 percent from the field, including 35.6 percent on 132 attempts from beyond the arc. He's only scored in double figures twice over the last seven games.
Moderate Edge Villanova
Myles Davis JR (6-2, 185) vs Josh Hart JR (6-5, 205)
Davis was just 1-of-8 from the field, and really struggled against Villanova's pressure at times after Sumner left the game. He finished with three points, five assists, three rebounds, and five turnovers in 27 minutes. After going for a triple-double against Providence, he struggled Saturday at Georgetown, finishing with seven points on 1-of-6 shooting (1-5 3PT). If the Musketeers are going to pull this one off, they are going to need their leader to be at his best. Hart is the best player on Villanova's team, and one of the most complete players in the conference. He's averaging 15.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.2 steals in 31.5 minutes per game, while shooting 50.5 percent from the field, including 33.9 percent on 118 attempts from 3-point range. In the first game against Xavier, he was 6-of-6 from the field with 15 points and two steals in 15 minutes. He had 22 points (8-16 FG, 3-8 3PT) and 12 rebounds with two assists, a steal, and a block in Saturday's win over Butler.
Slight Edge Villanova
Trevon Bluiett SO (6-6, 204) vs Kris Jenkins JR (6-6, 240)
Bluiett had 11 points on 2-of-9 shooting, including 0-of-4 from 3-point range, two rebounds, two assists, and four turnovers in 31 minutes in the first game against Villanova. He's averaging 15.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and a steal in 30.4 minutes per game. Jenkins is a wide-body, skilled face-up forward that was recovering from a knee injury the last time these teams met up. Even still, he managed 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting, including 2-of-3 from deep. He also had four rebounds and two assists in 35 minutes of action, while matching up with Bluiett most of that time. He's known as a shooter, with 166 of his 242 shot attempts coming from 3-point range this year, but he's only hitting them at a 33.1 percent clip as opposed to the 37 percent he shot the last two years. He's averaging 11.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists in 27.7 minutes per game. Bluiett will have to make sure to stay down on his shot fake, and when the Musketeers are in the 1-3-1 they'll have to do a better job of locating him spotting up for three.
Slight Edge Xavier
Jalen Reynolds JR (6-10, 238) vs Daniel Ochefu SR (6-11, 245)
Reynolds is coming off back-to-back solid performances in wins over Providence and Georgetown last week, including a double-double with 10 points and 15 rebounds against the Friars. He's averaging 9.6 points and 6.7 rebounds in 19.9 minutes per game. He had six points (1-2 FG, 4-6 FT), five rebounds and two blocks in 20 minutes in the first game against Villanova. Keep an eye on this matchup - Reynolds has been playing better recently, and he seemed to like going up against Ochefu last year. Ochefu is one of the top big men in the league. He rebounds really well, protects the rim, understands the Wildcats' system at both ends, and takes/makes high percentage shots. He had 12 points (5-6 FG) and 10 rebounds with five assists and two blocks in 27 minutes the first time around against the Musketeers. For the season, he's averaging 10.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, and 1.3 assists in 22.6 minutes per game.
Xavier Bench vs Villanova Bench
Sophomore wing JP Macura (6-5, 203) played 22 minutes and had 12 points (4-6 FG, 2-4 3PT), five rebounds, and two assists in the New Year's Eve loss at the Pavilion. His confidence and activity was one of the lone bright spots for the Musketeers in that game. He's been playing well lately, and big games seem to bring out the best in him. Senior James Farr (6-10, 244) was one of the only other bright spots in the first game at Villanova. He finished with 15 points (6-11 FG) and seven rebounds in 24 minutes. He's coming off a 14-point (4-6 FG), five-rebound performance Saturday in 15 minutes. For the season, he's averaging 10.0 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in 20.7 minutes per game. Freshman forward Kaiser Gates (6-8, 217) could see an increased role in this game. He played 12 minutes in the last one against the Wildcats, finishing with three points and a steal. His defensive versatility matches up well with Nova's skilled forwards (Hart and Jenkins). For Villanova, freshman wing Mikal Bridges (6-7, 191) played 29 minutes in the first game against the Musketeers, finishing with six points, three rebounds and three steals. His length and athleticism contributed to the Wildcats' pressure that gave XU trouble. He's averaging 6.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 20.3 minutes per game. Sophomore guard Phil Booth (6-3, 185) got his only start of the season in place of Brunson due to illness in the first game against X. He played 22 minutes and scored 10 points (4-5 FG, 2-3 3PT) with three assists, and two rebounds. He's averaging 7.0 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists in 22.4 minutes per game. Junior big man Darryl Reynolds (6-8, 225) is an extra piece off the bench that provides some size and rebounding for the Wildcats. He dished out three assists and grabbed a rebound in 17 minutes of action last time against the Musketeers, missing his only shot attempt.
Xavier has to handle ball pressure, not only in the backcourt against the Wildcats' trap, but also in the halfcourt. Last time Villanova's pressure forced 19 turnovers and kept the Musketeers from rotating the ball from side to side within their offense. Villanova's switching man-to-man also seemed to slow down XU's attack. If the Musketeers take better care of the ball and are able to get it moving, the Wildcats have a tendency to get over-extended at times which should lead to open looks. Also, if they make it a point to crash the offensive glass, they should be able to gain an edge there. Villanova ranks 129th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage, and X had 15 offensive rebound in the first game between the teams. Defensively, X needs Villanova to miss some shots. There were definitely some details that could be cleaned up from the last game, but Nova's early run was a lot more about their hot shooting than Xavier's poor defense. Getting off to a quick start at both ends will be key for the Musketeers in this one. It'd be hard for the confidence not to swing strongly in the Wildcats' direction if they ran out to a big early lead. Watching the two teams on film this season would suggest that Xavier has a legitimate shot to pull off its first win over Villanova since joining the Big East. especially with this game being at the Cintas Center. But, until that happens, it's stupid to pick against the Wildcats.
Predicted score: Villanova 75 Xavier 69