With four regular season games remaining in its fifth season as a member of the Big East, Xavier is favored to win its first title.
It wasn’t that way until Providence knocked off Villanova on Wednesday night. The Friars didn’t shoot well but the Wildcats shot worse in what amounted to be their second loss in three games and third loss in the conference.
Now, the team that has spent the most number of weeks as #1 in the nation this season is in danger of failing to win its conference title. Villanova (10–3) must beat Xavier (12–2) on Saturday and then hold onto the tie in the loss column, where a head-to-head sweep would give the Wildcats the Big East title for the fifth season in a row, or since the league semi-disbanded.
Xavier has away games at Georgetown and DePaul after Saturday, with a final home game against Providence. It is likely to run that table. Villanova has the tougher road with games at Creighton and Seton Hall between home games against DePaul and Georgetown.
But the ‘Cats are favored to win this game in Cincinnati — by a point-and-a-half. Have the oddsmakers overlooked the rocking Cintas Center?
Villanova really dominated the first matchup between these first two games. The Wildcats are the only team to have held the Musketeers under 70 points this season and they won 89–65. Xavier shot 3-for-17 from three and turned it over 15 times; Villanova shot 12-of-31 from three and 55 percent overall with just eight turnovers.
Phil Booth was ‘Nova’s most effective offensive weapon. He went 8-for-11 from the field for 21 points, without a free throw. He also threw four assists and committed just one turnover. But Booth won’t be available for this game. He is still recovering from a broken hand he suffered in the middle of last month. It’s been impossible to find a report on his progression online but I did hear during a broadcast that Jay Wright expects him to be back practicing soon, maybe as early as next week.
With Booth out, Villanova’s starting five isn’t affected so much because Donte DiVincenzo can step in and do a lot of what Booth does. It’s the bench that suffers. When Villanova beat Xavier at home, it only scored 17 off the bench and 11 of them belonged to DiVincenzo. Jay Wright only used two guys off the bench in ‘Nova’s last game against Providence and got four points between the two.
I think this game will be different. Xavier Nation is going to be fired up and the depth of the Musketeers will make the difference in this game — and in the Big East.
Free Pick: Xavier +1.5