A ONE-SIDED AFFAIR
Since the great Big East Reformation, Villanova and Xavier have been the class of the league, but the head to head has been completely lopsided. Nova owns an 8-1 record in Big East play against the Muskies, with an average margin of 18 points in the eight wins. Simply put, Jay Wright’s offense has ran wild over Chris Mack’s pack line/morphing zone schemes. Can Xavier turn their luck around this year in the first meeting between the Big East powerhouses? Let’s take a look at a closer look.
WHEN VILLANOVA HAS THE BALL
Villanova has the best offense in college basketball, and it all starts with point guard Jalen Brunson.
Similar to Trae Young, teams should just let Brunson “get his” by taking away his passing lanes to the perimeter. Brunson absolutely dominates in pick-and-roll situations, scoring 1.35 points per possession, per Synergy. His ability to get into the paint with ease and then effortlessly react to the secondary defender sets him apart from nearly every other point guard in the country. When Brunson gets a ball screen in Jay Wright’s offense, he picks apart defenses like Peyton Manning used to do pre-snap, only he does it in real time on the move.
It also helps to always have five players on the court who can shoot, pass and dribble. The Wildcats score 1.33 points per jump shot “when guarded,” per Synergy, which seems unfair. Phil Booth shoots 43% from 3 with a 16% assist rate. The versatile Mikal Bridges shoots 45% from 3 with a 12% assist rate, and Donte DiVincenzo shoots 40% from 3 with a 17% assist rate. The Wildcats also have the post presence they lacked last year in Omari Spellman. Per Synergy, Villanova scores in the 99th percentile in pick-and-roll offense and in the 93rd in post possessions. If teams double the post, Nova scores an absurd 1.36 ppp. If teams play straight up, the Wilcats score 1.40 ppp. Oh, and I forgot to mention they also score 1.25 ppp in transition.
In other words, Nova has an offense tailor made to shred Xavier’s pack-line, man-to-man defense. Xavier also runs an amorphous 1-3-1 zone defense, but Nova scores 1.26 points per possession against zones. Xavier must simply hope Nova has a poor shooting night so they can crash the defensive glass, and then take advantage of Villanova’s questionable transition defense.
WHEN XAVIER HAS THE BALL
Trevon Bluiett needs to play to his potential if Xavier wants to even have a prayer in Philly. Bluiett, mostly a non factor in the loss at Providence, will have to bounce back in a tough matchup against long, uber defender Bridges. Bluiett has only scored 53 total points in seven games against Villanova, including a scoreless performance in 19 minutes before getting hurt in their second meeting last year. They need this Bluiett:
The Muskies do have a few advantages in this matchup, starting with their transition offense. Xavier attempts field goals on the break at the 32nd highest rate and scores 1.12 ppp in transition. X needs to take advantage of a Villanova defense that allows the 20th highest field goal attempt rate in transition, per Hoop-math.com.
Additionally, Xavier shoots at the rim at the fourth highest rate nationally. Villanova’s interior defense relies on two freshmen, Spellman and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, who have both struggled defending the post. Xavier must relentlessly pound it inside to bigs like Sean O’Mara and Kerem Kanter to keep this game close. Wright will try to disrupt Xavier with his 1-2-2 zone press, but the Muskies have excelled in press break offense (90th percentile per Synergy).
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Quentin Goodin vs. Villanova’s ball screens: Goodin has been Xavier’s best player for the past two-plus weeks, but he and J.P. Macura have struggled mightily defending ball screens. They must utilize their length to slow down Brunson in Nova’s ball screen motion.
Tre Bluiett vs. Mikal Bridges: Without a breakout game from Bluiett against an elite defender in Bridges, Villanova will likely makes it nine of 10 in this matchup.
Xavier’s depth vs. Villanova’s short bench: Injuries have cut Wright’s rotation down to seven players, which means Xavier will have a major depth advantage, especially if they can get Villanova into early foul trouble by attacking the rim.
HOW TO BET
I simply can’t advise investing in Xavier against a team they simply do not match up well against, especially in Philadelphia. Villanova -9 or pass.