Villanova will be searching for its sixth consecutive victory when it opens Big East play against visiting Xavier on Monday.
The Wildcats (9-2), moved up eight spots in the national rankings to No. 10 following a 56-55 win over then-No. 1 Kansas on Dec. 21 in Philadelphia.
Villanova features one of its youngest teams in the career of head coach Jay Wright as two freshmen — Justin Moore and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl — are in the starting lineup for the first time since 2002.
In the win over the Jayhawks, experienced players such as Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels led the way. Samuels, a junior, hit the game-winning 3-pointer with 20.5 seconds left.
“We’ve seen it in this program over the years,” Wright said. “As they get older, guys who have been in this program know how to make plays. They know what it takes at the end of big games because they’ve been in a lot of big games. Both Collin and Jermaine have been in a lot of big games.”
This will be the first of 18 conference games for the Wildcats in one of the most balanced leagues in the country.
It will surely be a difficult challenge to close out the decade.
“Our league was a little young last year and we probably benefited from that because we had two experienced guys in Phil (Booth) and Eric (Paschall),” Wright said. “Now, the Big East has had a great preseason — there isn’t a deeper league in the country. We say it all the time, but every game is going to be a battle.”
Xavier (11-2) has won two straight since a two-point loss at Wake Forest on Dec. 14. The Musketeers bounced back with victories against Western Carolina and TCU.
In the Dec. 22 win over the Horned Frogs, Tyrique Jones had 18 points and equaled a season best with 14 rebounds. Quentin Goodin recorded a season-high 11 assists and Paul Scruggs added 10 points. Goodin earned his 500th career assist and moved into fourth place all-time at Xavier in assists.
Xavier will now head to the Main Line to face one of the hottest teams in the country.
“As you know and the rest of the world knows, the Big East is the best conference in college basketball right now,” said Jones, a senior. “It’s gonna be a war every night.”
The win over TCU was far from perfect as the Musketeers committed 21 turnovers that led to 19 points.
But the result was positive, both as a team and individually.
“I thought our mentality was great,” Xavier head coach Travis Steele said. “It starts with Q and Tyrique. Tyrique was present the entire game and was engaged the entire game. Even when he was on the bench, I could hear him. Quentin dominated the game. He had 11 assists, I think three turnovers. He was terrific. It starts with those guys. We’ll go as our seniors go, and those guys were terrific tonight.
“We got a lot of room for improvement, but I was proud of the way we performed, especially on the road.”
–Field Level Media