A few dangerous-looking teams have emerged from the Big East this college basketball season, but Xavier and Villanova were the two teams on most Final Four radars even before a game was played.
Neither team has taken itself off those radars, either. Villanova has just one loss and recently re-took the #1 spot in the national poll with a perfect week. Xavier suffered its second loss last week at Providence, but it still #10 in the country and just half of a game behind Creighton in the conference standings.
Villanova has had Xavier’s number in recent years. The Wildcats have beaten Xavier at home for four years in a row, though those four games were at the campus pavilion. This one will be at the Wells Fargo Center, home of the Philadelphia 76ers, more seating but perhaps a little less intimate and familiar for ‘Nova.
Either way, Villanova swept last season’s home and home and leads the all-time series 24–5. Do this year’s Musketeers have something different in them? This game will air on Fox Sports 1 at 8 pm EST.
This is a matchup of 1 vs. 10 in the AP Poll, but a matchup of 1 vs. 20, according to KenPom. Villanova is about ten points better than Xavier, and that’s on a neutral court. Just taking those numbers, Villanova -8 at home looks like a value play.
But Xavier is coming off of a loss and has serious motivation to beat a team that has dominated the series. The Wildcats are in a class of their own in the Big East and Xavier will never get there, will never get a chance to get there, if it can’t at least beat Villanova every year or two.
For Trevon Bluiett, it’s been four years of losing to Villanova and you can bet that he’s sick of it. Bluiett is having another terrific season, scoring more on fewer shots in less minutes. All of his shooting splits have gone up, and in the case of the three-point shot and free throws, way up, which is remarkable considering he was already an efficient scorer last season. He’s also assisting more and turning over over less. He’ll probably see Mikal Bridges on the defensive end. And while his length could bother Blueitt’s shot, he could also have an easier time getting to the rim and the free throw line. Blueitt has to be aggressive from the tip.
Kerem Kanter has also become a more efficient scorer in his senior season, though he is scoring less than he did as a junior with Green Bay. That happens with good teams and players who are willing to make sacrifices for the good of the team. Kanter is the younger brother of the New York Knicks’ Enes, who is enjoying a nice season himself.
But golly, Villanova is talented. The team shooting splits are ridiculous: .514/.753/.415 and they get even better when the ‘Cats are at home.
Both these teams are good, but one is better. I like Villanova, but I’m not willing to lay the points. Instead, I think the Wildcats will show an improved defense that has been the one aspect of the team you could identify as a weakness this season. All Villanova has to do is hold Xavier in the low-70s and the under is cash.
Free Pick: Under 165