Villanova, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Having recently climbed to the No. 5 spot in this week's AP poll, the Villanova Wildcats play host to the Xavier Musketeers in Big East Conference action on Wednesday night.
Xavier comes in sporting a solid 11-5 record, but the team is just 2-2 in conference after bouncing back and forth between wins and losses since New Year's Eve. A 70-53 victory at home over Georgetown got things started in a positive manner for the Musketeers, but that was followed by a 71-68 loss at DePaul. A 69-58 triumph over a ranked Seton Hall squad got the team feeling pretty good about itself once again, but the euphoria was short-lived as it suffered an 88-76 setback at Butler last Saturday. Xavier is 9-0 at home this season, but just 1-3 in true road games.
Save for a 66-61 overtime loss at Seton Hall on Jan. 3, Villanova has been perfect this season. Coach Jay Wright's club is 15-1, and owns a 3-1 league ledger. Since the loss to the Pirates, the Wildcats have posted double-digit wins over St. John's (90-72) and DePaul (81-64), with the decision against the Blue Demons running their record at home this season to 10-0.
Villanova owns a commanding 18-4 lead in the all-time series with Xavier, which includes victories in both meetings a season ago. The Wildcats are the only team the Musketeers, now in their second run through the Big East, have not beaten at least once in conference play.
Butler used an eye-popping 32-of-45 performance at the free-throw line to upend visiting Xavier over the weekend. A sizable 37-26 rebounding advantage also helped the Bulldogs, who allowed the Musketeers to shoot 46.4 percent from the field, but only 27.8 percent from 3-point range. Matt Stainbrook scored a game-high 21 points to pace Xavier, which also got double-digit scoring efforts from Remy Abell (15), Dee Davis (11) and Jalen Reynolds (11). Davis also helped his teammates stay involved by handing out seven assists, while four guys were credited with five rebounds.
Xavier is scoring a healthy 79 ppg, thanks to its near 50 percent shooting effort and 74.6 percent performance at the charity stripe. Trevon Bluiett leads the team with 12.8 ppg, and he grabs 5.1 rpg, while Stainbrook has a line consisting of 12.4 points and 7.3 caroms per contest. Abell (10.1 ppg) rounds out the unit's double-digit scorers, although Dee Davis (9.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg), Myles Davis (9.2 ppg) and Reynolds (8.9 ppg) are close to joining the ranks. XU's defensive effort allows the opposition to generate 67.6 ppg, and the Musketeers are on the plus side of things with regard to both rebounding (+4.8) and turnover (+2.2) margin.
Villanova got off to a fast start in its recent tilt against DePaul, knocking down 62.1 percent of its field goal attempts in taking a 45-24 lead at intermission. From there, the Wildcats cruised as Darrun Hilliard scored 21 points, Ryan Arcidiacono had 14 and Kris Jenkins 10 in the winning effort. Both Hilliard and Arcidiacono hit four 3-pointers apiece, helping VU go 13- of-29 from distance. Conversely, the Blue Demons shot just 39.2 percent from the floor, and lost rather convincingly despite claiming an 18-8 edge in points from the foul line. The 'Cats controlled the paint, outscoring DePaul there 30-10, and they also outpointed the visitors off turnovers (17-10) as well as out on the break (14-2).
It's becoming a broken record, but Villanova possesses one of the more balanced attacks in the country, as five players are averaging double figures in scoring, with the highest (Hilliard, 13.5 ppg) and lowest (Daniel Ochefu and Josh Hart, 10.1 ppg) separated by only a few points. The Wildcats pride themselves on playing solid defense as well, with foes netting a mere 60.5 ppg behind typical shooting outputs of .403 overall and .296 from 3-point range. They goad the opposition into just under 16 turnovers per outing, while logging a +3.9 rebounding differential.