Big East Key Questions: Villanova and Xavier

Posted by Brad Cavallaro on November 4th, 2019

Villanova: Will the Wildcats’ offense be as effective without a clear go-to guy?

Jay Wright Wonders Where His Offense Will Come From (USA Today Images)

Villanova’s roster last season was missing a perimeter creator and Jay Wright clearly had expected 2018 Final Four MOP Donte DiVincenzo to have filled that role. Seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall were terrific on their own, but a supporting cast led by Joe Cremo and Jahvon Quinerly fell woefully short of preseason expectations. Collin Gillespie began to flourish when Booth assumed the go-to scoring role, but he looked overmatched as the lead ball-handler. Saddiq Bey and Jermaine Samuels showed great promise as well, but neither created for themselves very often.

The 2019-20 Wildcats do not have any unforeseen departures, but they did lose the only two players in Booth and Paschall who could consistently put the ball in the basket. A strong group of returnees is bolstered by an excellent freshman class, but it is difficult to see how the Villanova offense moves forward. When you factor in the fifth-year seniors’ wealth of experience and essential contributions, an adjustment period feels inevitable.

Still, most prognosticators disagree. Despite finishing 30th in KenPom last season and losing their two most productive players, the Wildcats are expected by many to be significantly better this season. Villanova has been consistently ranked as a top-10 team in most human polls and computer metrics. I expect Villanova finish closer to 20th nationally. Their defense has elite potential with great positional size and versatility, but the losses of Booth and Paschal — especially on the offensive end — are being undersold. Multiple players will need to take major leaps in their skill set development to become consistent shot creators. Freshman Bryan Antoine was the most logical candidate until his season was jeopardized with a shoulder injury. Bey and Justin Moore could fill that role eventually, but it is probably too soon to place that burden on them. Perhaps big man Jeremiah Robinson-Earl can add an interior scoring punch, but will that be enough?

Xavier: Was last year’s end of season push a mirage or a sign of things to come?

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Xavier Looks Ahead After Squandering Golden Opportunity Last Week

Posted by Brad Cavallaro on November 27th, 2018

Despite losing its three leading scorers from last season, Xavier was expected to remain relevant in the Big East race. Trevon Bluiett, JP Macura and Kerem Kanter all averaged double-figure points for the Musketeers last season, but returnees like Naji Marshall and Quentin Goodin were anticipated to fill the void. No one thought Xavier was set to replicate last season’s #1 seed level of success, but a sixth straight NCAA Tournament bid seemed completely attainable. With a 1-2 trip to the Maui Invitational now in the rear view, however, the Musketeers have squandered a golden opportunity to build their non-conference resume.

Xavier’s 1-2 Trip to Maui Puts a Significant Strain on Its NCAA At-Large Resume (USA Today Images)

For most of last week’s first round game against Auburn, it looked like Xavier had hit the jackpot. Ultimately, however, the Tigers prevailed in overtime with dynamic guards Jared Harper and Bryce Brown combining for 51 points in an overtime victory. Xavier was fortunate enough to have another opportunity for a quality win in the consolation round, though, as San Diego State should remain in the season-long discussion for a bid out of the Mountain West. The Musketeers built a substantial lead in the early portion of the first half of that game, but the Aztecs stormed back late and earned a five-point win. That loss meant Xavier was relegated to the seventh place game where they stopped the bleeding by defeating a struggling Illinois team. Given that the Fighting Illini will likely finish in the bottom three of the Big Ten this season, the win didn’t have much long-term at-large value. Xavier shot the ball extremely well in that game, but they were sloppy with the ball far too often.

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Highlighting the Changes that Revived Xavier’s Lost Season

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 10th, 2017

Staring into the abyss of a lost season appears to have sent a message bleak enough to stir Xavier. The problems were numerous: the loss of star point guard Edmond Sumner, inconsistent contributions from interior players, a confused defensive identity, and an increasingly frustrated fan base. Riding a six-game losing streak into this week’s Big East Tournament put Chris Mack’s group dangerously close to the NCAA Tournament cut line, all but demanding an immediate and drastic turnaround if the season was to be saved. While a reversion to its earlier form remains somewhat unlikely, three strong performances (the latest coming in a momentous defeat of #2 seed Butler on Thursday night) have offered glimpses of a team not yet ready to end its season. Perhaps the most confidence-inspiring aspect of the three-game role reversal is that it isn’t attributable to streaky hot shooting performances. Instead, Xavier’s strong play has resulted from three areas: a renewed focus on attacking the paint, more frequent defensive switching, and the improved play of graduate transfer Malcolm Bernard.

Xavier Has Started Looking Like Xavier Again (USA Today Images)

The injury to Sumner has already been discussed at length, and the result, aside from the obvious loss of a key playmaker, has been a reduction in high efficiency shots around the rim. As the below table shows, the 6’6″ guard led the team in shot creation opportunities in the paint, taking a whopping 54 percent of his shots at the rim.


In Sumner’s absence, Xavier’s tendencies have, quite understandably, drifted toward the preferred scoring methods of Bluiett and Macura: jump shots. The overlooked problem with this arrangement is that it significantly simplifies things on the defensive end for opponents, especially given Xavier’s lack of low post scoring options. Accordingly, since Sumner’s injury, Xavier’s shooting rate around the basket and free throw rate have notably declined.

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Edmond Sumner’s Emergence As Xavier’s MVP

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 20th, 2016

There has been no shortage of discussion around the success of Xavier so far this season. Even after a loss to Georgetown on Tuesday night, the Musketeers are a top five team with a 16-2 record and five wins over the RPI top 50. It’s put Xavier on track to potentially post the best season in program history. Xavier has earned a #3 seed in the NCAA tournament twice in its history (2003 and 2008), but has never advanced to the Final Four. Now, in building upon a dark horse Sweet Sixteen run last season, Chris Mack’s team is pounding on the ceiling. Some bracketology predictions show Mack’s team on the one seed line, and talk of legitimate Final Four potential is ramping up. A balanced offense (six players score 9 PPG or more) has combined with a stifling zone defense to pave the way to the team’s hot start. So too has the intimidating inside punch of Jalen Reynolds and James Farr, whose combined 15.6 RPG is a major reason why Xavier is one of the best rebounding teams in the country. But the true impact player for the X-men has been redshirt freshman Edmond Sumner, a wiry 6’6 point guard who drastically alters the rhythm of the game on both ends of the floor.

His assist figures may not directly reflect it, but Sumner has deftly assumed point guard duties left behind by departed senior Dee Davis, who had been a critical facilitator on last year’s team. One of the big offseason questions for Chris Mack was whether any player could fill his shoes. Sumner has done that, and more. He is averaging 5.4 assists per 40 minutes, while his scoring ability has drawn enough respect from defenders that they are forced to slide into help position and surrender an open man. His long frame and quick feet enable him to easily evade defenders in both the halfcourt and transition, frequently putting him in a position to score or make an easy pass. Here, are two perfect examples of the aforementioned optionality that Sumner provides his team.

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