Xavier-Seton Hall Preview
A statement-making win over the top team in the nation has Xavier aiming for not only its first Big East regular-season title, but also a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Those opportunities, however, could quickly evaporate if the fifth-ranked Musketeers can't take care of business against a Seton Hall team that still has something to prove.
After James Farr's career-best effort keyed a win in the first meeting, Xavier will chase its fifth consecutive victory overall and first in three visits to Prudential Center on Sunday.
The Musketeers (25-3, 13-3) moved within a half game of No. 1 Villanova in the Big East with a 90-83 home win Wednesday before the Wildcats extended their lead with Saturday's victory. Xavier also made a case to earn one of the NCAA Tournament's top seeds for the first time.
The squad hasn't won a regular-season title since taking the Atlantic-10 crown in 2010-11 and has never earned higher than a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
''We know we're capable of competing against anyone in the country,'' said Myles Davis, who had 16 points and six assists off the bench. ''Each game we're going to see something new, something different. March is coming up, so we've still got time to get better.''
Edmond Sumner missed three games after a hard fall in the opening minutes of a 31-point loss at Villanova on Dec. 31. The freshman looks fully recovered, averaging 15.7 points in his last six after finishing with 19 to go along with a career-high nine assists and six rebounds against the Wildcats.
J.P. Macura also came up big with 19 points as Xavier recorded a season-high 24 assists.
Xavier, which owns the highest ranking in school history, is second in the Big East with 80.4 points per game and a 35.6 3-point percentage. It could find the going much tougher against a Seton Hall team that leads the conference with a 30.7 defensive 3-point percentage and ranks second with a 39.3 defensive field-goal percentage.
The Pirates are also second with 66 points allowed per game after holding Providence to 28.4 percent shooting in Thursday's 70-52 home win. Isaiah Whitehead had 25 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four blocks, while Angel Delgado added 14 points and 10 boards.
Whitehead is third in the Big East with 16.9 points and 5.0 assists per game.
“He makes everyone better, but he makes it very simple for them,” coach Kevin Willard told the school's official website. “He's starting to understand what he means to this team and what the point guard position means both offensively and defensively.”
Seton Hall (20-7, 10-5) would still like to pad its improving tournament resume after winning seven of eight since a 84-76 loss at Xavier on Jan. 23 to move into sole possession of third place.
Desi Rodriguez had 21 points in the first meeting, Khadeen Carrington scored 19 and Whitehead added 17 but shot just 6 for 20. Whitehead finished with 19 points and Rodriguez added 16 in a 90-82 win in the most recent matchup at Seton Hall on Jan. 31, 2015.
The Pirates will certainly have to keep a closer watch on Farr after he finished with career highs of 24 points and 15 rebounds off the bench. Trevon Bluiett, who contributed 15 points, has averaged 15.7 on 60 percent shooting in three career meetings.
Seton Hall has dropped five of its last six games versus ranked opponents.