Villanova-Xavier Preview

CINCINNATI — After his team was beaten by 25 points at Villanova in January, Xavier head coach Chris Mack dubbed it “the annual Villanova (butt) kicking.” The Musketeers also lost by 31 points at the Pavilion last season.

The all-time series has been dominated by Villanova, but at a raucous Cintas Center last February, Xavier turned the tables, knocking off the eventual national champions for its first victory over the Wildcats since 1961.

No. 2 Villanova (23-2, 10-2 Big East) returns to Cintas Center on Saturday afternoon when it’ll face the No. 24 Musketeers (18-6, 8-3) before what’s expected to be a standing-room only crowd.

“It’s always a great game at Xavier,” said Villanova coach Jay Wright. “Cintas Center is one of the great atmospheres in college basketball.”

Without dynamic point guard Edmond Sumner and a thin bench, the Musketeers may need more than a little Cintas Center magic to upset the Wildcats this time around.

“We have to be better prepared mentally than we were the first time we played (in January),” said Mack. “We’ve got to be much better with the ball to give ourselves a chance against the best team in the league.”

Sumner is out for the season with a torn ACL and senior guard Myles Davis was dismissed from the team. Both factored prominently in last season’s 90-83 upset of Villanova with Sumner notching 19 points and nine assists and Davis adding 16 points and four 3-pointers.

Since taking over point guard duties after Sumner’s injury, freshman Quentin Goodin has averaged 9.3 points, 6.7 assists, and 2.3 steals in three games.

“Every game he continues to grow up,” Mack said. “The first challenge was for him to play the (additional) minutes and take on the responsibility. We all recognized when Edmond went down, we weren’t going to replace him with one player. We all had to do a little more.”

Among the other Musketeers who have stepped up in Sumner’s absence is Kaiser Gates. The sophomore big man had a career-high 10 rebounds in a win over DePaul on Wednesday. Xavier leads the Big East Conference in rebounding margin.

The Wildcats also will be shorthanded, as senior forward Darryl Reynolds (rib) and redshirt freshman forward Tim Delaney (hip) were rulled out Saturday morning.

Villanova has seen substantial growth from sophomore guard Jalen Brunson, who spent much of last season in the shadow of Ryan Arcidiacono. Brunson averages 14.1 points and 4.2 assists.

“He never lacked in confidence,” Wright said. “He was just in a secondary role (behind Arcidiacono). You now see him as a leader, that’s who he is.”

Josh Hart leads the Wildcats with 19.2 points per game, one of four players averaging in double figures.

Defensively, Mack wants his players to stay disciplined on Villanova’s vaunted shot-fake, especially from sharp-shooting Kris Jenkins.

“We tell them 7,300 times about staying down on the shot-fake, then the first time they don’t,” Mack said.

Villanova leads the all-time series 23-5, including wins in seven of the past eight meetings.

Xavier hasn’t faced a No. 2-ranked team since 1978 when it hosted defending national champion Marquette.

Wright wants his team to be leery of the Sumner-less Musketeers, who still have plenty of firepower. Trevon Bluiett, a two-time Big East player of the week award recipient, has scored 20 or more points in 13 games this season.

“Chris (Mack) has done a great job since losing Sumner,” said Wright. “They’re maybe a little more explosive without him, with so many shooters on the floor.”