Quentin Goodin FR (6-4, 194) vs Jalen Brunson SO (6-2, 190)
Brunson is a skilled ballhandler, passer, and shooter with tremendous body control and an unflappable demeanor. He's averaging 14.1 points (53.5% FG, 38.8% 3PT), 4.2 assists, and 2.4 rebounds in 30.9 minutes per game. In addition to being a really good jump-shooter, the biggest threat he poses to Xavier is his ability to carve opposing defenses in ball-screen situations. Brunson has been cold from three of late, hitting just 2-of-15 over the last five games. He's also had some turnover issues on the road in Big East play. In his last three road games, he turned the ball over seven times at St. John's, three times at Marquette, and seven times at Providence. Xavier would like to see that trend continue. Goodin is averaging 9.3 points, 6.6 assists, and 2.3 steals over the last three games since he took over the starting job. He played another strong floor game against DePaul on Wednesday, finishing with eight assists and two turnovers. He was particularly effective working in the high post against the Blue Demons' zone. This game will be another huge test for the freshman working against Villanova's pressure defense.
Slight Edge Villanova
JP Macura JR (6-5, 203) vs Josh Hart SR (6-5, 215)
Hart is still one of the top two or three candidates for the National Player of the Year award. He's been stuffing stat sheets all season, averaging 19.2 points per game (51.4% FG, 40.6% 3PT), 6.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.5 steals in 33.3 minutes. There are three main areas where he does the most damage offensively - spot up jumpers, pick-and-roll situations, and transition opportunities. When using ball-screens, he's great at using his strength to finish through defenders in the lane. He also has a crafty mid-range game. He put up 20 points (7-16 FG, 2-7 3PT), six boards, five assists, and four turnovers in Villanova's 79-54 over Xavier in Philly. He's scored 26 and 25 points over the last two games in wins over St. John's and Georgetown respectively. Macura is averaging 14.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.5 steals in 32.0 minutes per game. He was the man in the Musketeers' win over No. 1 Villanova at the Cintas Center last year. He scored 19 points and had multiple memorable moments in that battle.
Moderate Edge Villanova
Malcolm Bernard SR (6-6, 202) vs Mikal Bridges SO (6-7, 210)
Bridges is a supremely athletic wing with great length. He provides a lot of value on both ends while hardly needing the ball at all on offense. He's averaging 10.5 points (57.1% FG, 42% 3PT), 4.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.8 steals in 30.1 minutes per game. Defensively, he's very disruptive, particularly at the top of their 1-2-2 press. He's had three or more steals in each of the last three games. Bernard is averaging 5.8 points and 3.8 rebounds in 27.5 minutes per game. He went 3-for-4 from deep Wednesday night against DePaul to finish with nine points, three assists, and two steals. Xavier will alsoneed him take better care of the basketball (he had four turnovers against DePaul) and maybe provide a little more help on the glass.
Moderate Edge Villanova
Trevon Bluiett JR (6-6, 198) vs Kris Jenkins SR (6-6, 235)
Jenkins is a wide-framed shooting forward. He's added a few wrinkles to his game and will do some limited isolation work, but he's mostly still a spot-up shooter. He's averaging 13.0 points (38.7% FG, 38.7% 3PT), 4.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists in 31.0 minutes per game. He also has the best pump fake in college hoops which the Musketeers are well aware of, so staying down on that is always bolded on the scouting report. He scored 20 points on 5-10 shooting, including 4-of-8 from three, in the first meeting between these teams. He's been ice cold on the road recently, going 3-for-22 (13.6%) from deep over the last three road games. Bluiett stayed hot against DePaul, posting 20 points while hitting 4-of-8 from beyond the arc. He's been incredible over the last five games, averaging 24.2 points while shooting 58.3 percent from 3-point range. If Xavier is going to pull the upset against Nova, it will likely require one of his best performances.
Slight Edge Xavier
Tyrique Jones FR (6-9, 239) vs Darryl Reynolds SR (6-9, 240)
Reynolds is a solid defender and strong rebounder. He's only scored in double-figures four times this year with the last time coming on Jan. 10 in the first game against Xavier. He's averaging 5.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in 23.9 minutes per game. His points come on dump-offs or pick-and-rolls. He's been rather ineffective in his rare post-up opportunities. Jones is averaging 6.5 points and 4.0 rebounds in 15.0 minutes per game since he found his way into the starting lineup. He was 11-for-12 from the field over the last two games after scoring eight points (3-4 FG) and grabbing four boards on Wednesday night. He played six minutes but didn't post a stat in the first game against Villanova.
Slight Edge Xavier
Xavier Bench vs Villanova Bench
Sophomore Eric Paschall (6-7, 250), a transfer from Fordham, is a unique player. He's a little undersized, stocky, strong, fairly athletic, and skilled. He's averaging 6.6 points (46.0% FG, 26.4% 3PT) and 3.8 rebounds in 20.3 minutes per game. Defensively, he adds strength and rebounding inside. On offense, he floats on the perimeter a little too much looking for jump shots at times, but he's capable of scoring in a handful of ways. He'll post-up, run the floor in transition, and get garbage buckets. He doesn't do anything that should threaten an opposing team, but he is capable of making an impact on the game. Redshirt freshman Donte DiVincenzo (6-5, 205) is a blue-collar guard that will come in and run the point or play alongside Brunson at the two. He played 32 minutes and scored 10 points (4-6 FG, 1-3 3PT) with four boards and three assists in the first game against Xavier. He's averaging 7.8 points (45% FG, 30.7% 3PT), 3.3 rebounds, and 1.5 assists in 23.8 minutes per game. For Xavier, RaShid Gaston tied his season-high with 14 points (6-8 FG) to go with five boards on Wednesday night against DePaul. He had four points (2-4 FG) and six boards in 16 minutes in the first game against Nova. Kaiser Gates' defensive versatility and rebounding have been key for the Musketeers lately and he'll be even more important in this matchup against Villanova. He's averaged 9.0 rebounds over the last four games, including 10 on Wednesday night. No one else played more than three minutes off the bench for XU on Wednesday.
Villanova is ranked fifth overall in the country in the current KenPom rankings while sitting at No. 4 overall in offensive efficiency and No. 18 in defensive efficiency. There's nothing new about this matchup. Xavier's ability to take care of the ball and how Nova shoots from deep will likely decide whether this game is close or not. In an ideal setup for the Musketeers, they'd pack their defense in (likely in the 2-3 zone) and Nova would settle for jump shots and miss. XU would also finish those stops off with a big defensive rebound. The Wildcats are going to attempt a lot of threes regardless, that's part of their strategy, but they also thrive off of creating high-percentage 2-point looks and getting to the free-throw line. On the other end of the court, Bluiett and Macura have to be special. This game will be closer than the one in Philly a month ago and, with the Musketeers being at home, it's not out of the question that they could pull the upset. However, that seems unlikely to me.
Predicted score: Villanova 77 Xavier 72