Villanova used a balanced effort as the No. 2 Wildcats beat No. 24 Xavier, 73-57, for a Big East road win on Saturday afternoon.
The win is head coach Jay Wright’s 500th as he saw the Big East leaders play a complete game.
Point guard Jalen Brunson had a solid game with 17 points, seven assists and only two turnovers as Villanova shot 51 percent (27-for-52) from the field and only committed six turnovers. Donte DiVincenzo also continued his strong recent stretch of play by finishing with 17 points.
Kris Jenkins (12 points), Josh Hart (11 points) and Mikal Bridges (10 points) also finished with double-figures for Villanova.
When Villanova’s offense is playing like this they are going to be one of the toughest teams in the country to stop. Brunson and DiVincenzo being the leaders in this one is particularly noteworthy since those are two of the players Villanova will rely on in March compared to last season. We know that Josh Hart is a player of the year candidate and Jenkins and Bridges are also steady but adding more perimeter firepower from those guys makes Villanova really tough to defend.
With DiVincenzo scoring like this there are not many weak links in the Villanova lineup.
Xavier (18-7, 8-4) looked lifeless by the end of this one as Trevon Bluiett (0 points) had an ankle injury and the team’s offense struggled. Rashid Gaston had a solid game with 23 points and 10 rebounds while J.P. Macura added 17 points and seven rebounds.
The Musketeers outrebounded Villanova 42-27 but the only shot 35 percent from the field and 28 percent from three-point range.
This loss snaps a four-game winning streak for Xavier as they begin a three-game road trip in which they need to get healthier and figure out the offensive issues.
Xavier earned an important road win over No. 22 Creighton on Saturday as the Musketeers were able to stay in the Big East race with an 82-80 win.
Relying on a balanced scoring effort, Xavier (17-6, 7-3) had 16 points each from Tyrique Jones and Trevon Bluiett and 15 points each from Quentin Goodin and J.P. Macura. Jones was a perfect 8-for-8 from the field while Bluiett knocked down two key three-pointers down the stretch to keep the Musketeers in control.
This win is Xavier’s first win against an RPI top-25 team, so it looks very good for the tournament profile. By also winning this one without Edmond Sumner, Xavier proved that they would still be a contender in the Big East as they’re riding a three-game winning streak.
Creighton (20-4, 7-4) dropped this one even though they had a nine-point lead at halftime. The Bluejays were led by Marcus Foster with 18 points while Khyri Thomas (15 points) and Cole Huff (11 points) both finished in double-figures.
It was notable that big man Justin Patton only finished with seven points as he was only 2-for-5 from the field and 3-for-4 from the free-throw line. Patton also had five blocks on the defensive end. The Xavier defense certainly deserves credit for limiting Patton’s attempts and touches but Creighton also has to have a more proactive approach to getting Patton the ball.
The seven points broke a streak in which Patton scored double figures in 13 straight games as he’s shooting 71 percent from the field on the season. Creighton needs to be doing everything they can to work inside-out and let their shooters get looks after he’s drawing double teams.
From here, the Big East race gets a little intriguing thanks to Xavier’s soft remaining schedule. With two games against DePaul and Marquette and only home games with Villanova and Butler, the Musketeers can make a major play to stay with Villanova.
Crieghton’s schedule also isn’t too bad from here as they have road games at DePaul, Villanova, Marquette and Seton Hall and home games with St. John’s, Providence and Georgetown. That’s a stretch where Creighton could conceivably go 5-2 and still be in good position entering the Big East tournament.
Xavier continues to recruit well at the national level as the Musketeers pulled off a huge commitment by landing four-star Class of 2017 guard Paul Scruggs on Friday.
The 6-foot-3 Scruggs is considered the No. 31 overall prospect by Rivals in the national Class of 2017 as he’s a tough and physical guard who is capable of playing both perimeter spots. Scruggs will have to improve as a perimeter shooter, but he’s tough to contain off the bounce and he has a chance to be an all-Big East defender thanks to his toughness and willingness to defend.
Scuggs was one of Xavier’s main targets in the Class of 2017 as he joins four-star wing Naji Marshall and a trio of three-star prospects, guard Elias Harden, forward Jared Ridder and center Kentrevious Jones.
Xavier’s class is an impressive five-man group and it will likely find itself in the top-20 nationally after the fall signing period.
While many of the key contributors to a team that was Villanova’s greatest threat in the Big East return, Xavier has some holes to fill in the rebounding department. With James Farr and Jalen Reynolds both moving on, the Musketeers will have to account for the loss of their top two rebounders as the 2016-17 season approaches. Trevon Blueitt, who averaged 6.1 rebounds per game last season, is back, but others including Norfolk State transfer RaShid Gaston and Sean O’Mara will have to step forward for Chris Mack’s team.
Another option is 6-foot-5 forward Malcolm Bernard. Bernard, who played last season at Florida A&M after spending his first two seasons at Charleston Southern, announced Monday that he will join the Xavier program as a graduate student. He’ll be eligible to compete immediately as a result, with one season of eligibility remaining.
As a redshirt junior at Florida A&M Bernard averaged 14.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, doing the majority of his damage inside of the arc despite playing at a listed weight of just 195 pounds. Bernard also averaged 4.3 assists and 2.3 steals per game for the Rattlers in 2015-16. Adding a capable rebounder on the wing will help the Musketeers as they look to not only chase down the reigning national champions but also go further in the NCAA tournament than they did last season.
Xavier will return four starters from a team that won 28 games, and went 14-4 in Big East play, before losing to Wisconsin at the buzzer in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Having already received a commitment from four-star Class of 2017 shooting guard Jordan Poole, Michigan has added another perimeter prospect who could potentially help them on the court in 2017. NBC Sports confirmed Monday night that former Kentucky guard Charles Matthews has decided to transfer to Michigan. News of Matthews’ decision was first reported by ESPN.com.
Matthews, a Chicago native who played sparingly in his lone season at Kentucky, will have three seasons of eligibility after he sits out the 2016-17 campaign.
Matthews can spend the upcoming season enhancing his skill set while learning John Beilein’s offensive system, and he’ll do so practicing against upperclassmen such as rising senior Zak Irvin and rising junior Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rakhman. Matthews, who adds length and athleticism on the wing for Michigan, played just over ten minutes per game as a freshman last season.
With Kentucky bringing in another loaded recruiting class that included guards De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, as well as the return of Isaiah Briscoe, Matthews was facing another tough fight for minutes had he remained in Lexington for another season.
Before picking Michigan Matthews was also considering Xavier as a possible destination, and he visited both campuses this month.
Thursday morning Xavier head coach Chris Mack announced that sophomore guard Larry Austin Jr. has decided to transfer from the Big East program. The 6-foot-2 guard becomes the second player to decide to transfer since the end of the season, with forward Makinde London being the first.
Austin played just under ten minutes per game this season, averaging 1.8 points and 1.1 assists per contest in a backcourt that included Edmond Sumner, Myles Davis and J.P. Macura. And with all three due to return next season, Austin likely would have found the going tough with regards to earning more playing time.
Xavier is awaiting the decisions of Trevon Bluiett and Jalen Reynolds, with both currently going through the NBA pre-Draft process without hiring an agent. Should both return, the Musketeers will be viewed as the biggest threat to reigning national champion Villanova atop the Big East.