By: Kyle Tooley ~Staff Writer~
The Xavier Musketeers regained their highest ranking as fifth in the country according to the AP and Coaches Polls.
Though a school, city and fan base can rally around the fact that they can call their team a “top five team in the country,” a lot of students and fans alike feel that the team has been overlooked since the start of the season.
It is no small feat that head coach Chris Mack has taken a team that received no AP votes in the preseason to 11 straight weeks in the top 10.
While the polls are essentially worthless, it can be frustrating nonetheless.
Strong Bench Play:
The quality minutes that Xavier has gotten out of its bench this season has proven to be invaluable, as it seems to be regarded in the national media as one of the deepest teams in the country.
Jon Rothstein of CBS has tweeted three times now that Xavier is deeper than the cast of A Few Good Men, poking fun at the 1992 movie starring Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Jack Nicholson with several other stars in supporting roles.
Senior James Farr has been one of the most improved players in the country, averaging 10 points and eight boards in 20 minutes of play, compared to his four and five stat line in 15 minutes from a season ago.
The emergence of JP Macura and Kaiser Gates has also not gone unnoticed. Even ESPN named Macura one of the best bench players in the country. Xavier’s first unit has been extremely efficient this season partly because the confidence they have in the guys behind them.
Bring on Nova:
In what is arguably the biggest game that Xavier University has ever seen, the fifth ranked Musketeers will host the top team in the country, the Villanova Wildcats.
Villanova is a team that Mack and the Musketeers are quite familiar with but not necessarily for the best of reasons. Since joining the Big East, Xavier is 0-6 against the Wildcats, losing each of those games by an average of 17 points.
The last matchup between these two teams on New Year’s Eve saw the Wildcats have their way with the Musketeers, cruising to a 31 point win.
That game immediately got off to a bad start as point guard Edmond Sumner went down hard and was taken to the hospital after a foul roughly three minutes into the game. Sumner has the ability to change the game as well as anyone in the country.
Xavier has been rolling on all cylinders following wins against Butler, Providence and Georgetown, and with a healthy Sumner in the mix this game figures to be much different than the one in Philadelphia.
One possible strategy for Xavier is to play as much of its 1-3-1 zone as possible against the Wildcats. Despite hitting an inconceivable number of threes back in December (13- 25 from beyond the arc), Villanova ranks as the second-worst threepoint shooting team in the conference. Mack may decide to make Villanova shoot as many threes as they want with the zone defense, betting that Nova doesn’t go unconscious with the long ball again.
Rebounding will also be a big part of the game, as Daniel Ochefu is the third leading rebound in the Big East, while also averaging 10 points a game.
And what would an article about Villanova be without talking about senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono, the team leader who has seemingly had Xavier’s number every time he’s faced the Musketeers. Josh Hart joins Arcidiacono in the backcourt, and he enters the game as Nova’s leading scorer at more than 15 points per contest.
This is the biggest matchup Xavier has seen in decades and the first time a No.1 ranked team visits the Cintas Center. Look for the team to be poised and ready, the crowd to be energized and the nation to be watching.
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