VILLANOVA – Another Quad-1 opportunity awaits the Xavier Musketeers on Tuesday night (7 p.m., Fox Sports 1) at Finneran Pavilion, as well as the chance to do something Xavier's never done before: win a Big East Conference game at Villanova.
Xavier (11-1, 1-0) heads to Villanova (7-4, 0-1) riding a seven-game win streak, most recently a win Saturday over Marquette in the conference opener, while the Wildcats have dropped two in a row.
But Villanova's been a tough nut to crack at Finneran Pavilion for the Big East. Since conference realignment (2013-14), the Wildcats have only lost one conference game at the Pavilion (Butler, 2017).
The Musketeers and Wildcats didn't play last season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but both are two of the most experienced teams in the conference, each with a pair of fifth-year seniors who took advantage of the extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic.
Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels both opted to return for a fifth season at Villanova and Xavier's Paul Scruggs and Nate Johnson did the same.
Scruggs and Gillespie have made a combined 259 career appearances with 194 starts between them, which should create a fun battle in the backcourt.
Analysis: Travis Steele's best start at Xavier, grades and awards for games 9-12
Don't be fooled by Villanova's 7-4 record. The Wildcats went through arguably the toughest non-conference schedule in the country with losses against three teams currently ranked in the top-5 of the Associated Press poll (No. 1 Baylor, No. 3 Purdue, No. 5 UCLA).
"It's a great opportunity," Xavier head coach Travis Steele said Sunday in his pre-game press conference. "It's the biggest game of the year because it's the next game, right? All these Big East games are worth the exact same ... we know we're gonna get their best shot. They're coming off a loss against Creighton and a loss to Baylor before that. I know this, coach (Jay) Wright's gonna have them playing at a very, very high level on Tuesday night."
- Tipoff: 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Finneran Pavilion
- TV/Radio: FS1 with play-by-play from Brandon Gaudin and analysis from Jim Jackson. Byron Larkin and Joe Sunderman will have the radio call on WKRC-AM (550).
- Series info: Villanova leads the all-time series 30-6, including three straight wins over the Musketeers.
Xavier Musketeers (11-1, 1-0)
Coach: Travis Steele, fourth season (62-38 overall)
Offense: 77.0 ppg
Defense: 61.3 ppg
Player (Position, Height, Key Stat)
Paul Scruggs (G, 6'5", 10.8 ppg)
Jerome Hunter (F, 6'8", 5.5 rpg)
Colby Jones (G, 6'6", 12.4 ppg)
Zach Freemantle (F, 6'9", 8.7 ppg)
Nate Johnson (G, 6'4", 13.3 ppg)
Villanova Wildcats (7-4, 0-1)
Coach: Jay Wright, 21st season (497-194 overall)
Offense: 72.6 ppg
Defense: 63.1 ppg
Player (Position, Height, Key Stat)
Collin Gillespie (G, 6'3", 16.2 ppg)
Justin Moore (G, 6'4", 14.7 ppg)
Brandon Slater (F, 6'7", 11.2 ppg)
Jermaine Samuels (F, 6'7", 11.0 ppg)
Eric Dixon (F, 6'8", 5.9 rpg)
Players to watch
The senior point guard is the pacesetter and playmaker for the Wildcats. Gillespie's done it for a long time at a high level and Xavier has to have an answer for him. If Gillespie has his way, it will make it that much more difficult for Xavier to steal a win.
This is exactly the type of game where Xavier needs Scruggs to be the guy. His defensive intensity, play-making and scoring – Xavier needs it all in order to walk away victorious. Scruggs has to take care of the ball and he has to set the tone on defense from the opening tip until the final buzzer. It's his last chance in a Xavier uniform to beat Villanova on the road.
Key to the game
Defensive discipline, attack the paint
There were two things that stood out in Creighton's 20-point win over Villanova on Friday. First, the Bluejays didn't fall for Villanova's onslaught of shot fakes, so Xavier has to stay down on defense and they have to stay tight because Villanova's always ready to shoot. Second, Creighton dominated the interior with 42 points in the paint.
"I think playing inside-out has been really good for us," said Steele. "Early on in the year, I thought we were taking too many 3s ... without the ball ever touching the paint. When we get the ball inside to guys like Zach and Jack (Nunge), when we drive the ball with Colby, Paul, Dwon (Odom) and AK (Adam Kunkel), man good things really happen for us."
KenPom.com: Xavier (23); Villanova (12).
NET: Xavier (11); Villanova (17).