And then there were three.
No. 6 Xavier went to No. 16 Villanova on New Year’s Eve as one of four undefeated teams remaining in the country and they left with a 95-64 loss and less than 48 hours to get ready to play at No. 9 Butler.
It was just one of those days for the Musketeers. Their most important player, point guard Edmond Sumner, was wheeled off the court on a stretcher less than three minutes into the game and Xavier never seemed to respond. They gave up an immediate 13-2 run to the Wildcats and eventually found themselves down by as much as 20 in the first half.
They simply had no answer, and with every three that Villanova hit — they made seven of their first nine and eight total in the first half — the Musketeers just looked more and more demoralized. This was a conference road game against the two-time conference champions where Xavier played poorly and lost their star before the first TV timeout. That’s how blowouts to top ten teams happen.
And give credit to Villanova.
The Wildcats had an edge on Thursday. Ryan Arcidiacono scored 17 of their first 25 points, hitting five straight threes to start the game, as Villanova busted out of a season-long slump to shoot 13-for-25 from beyond the arc. That first half performance gets all the more impressive when you factor in that Josh Hart, Villanova’s best player, managed just six scoreless minutes before heading to the bench with a pair of fouls.
There has been quite a bit of speculation that this Villanova may not be as good as the last two Villanova teams, that their reliance on the three-ball — more than half of their field goal attempts come from beyond the arc — and their inability to knock them down consistently would be their great downfall.
It still may be.
But this looked like a team that had a statement to make. With five minutes left and a 30 point lead, Villanova’s starters will still diving on the floor for loose balls.
The Wildcats wanted to let the conference, and the nation, know that the Big East title still runs through The Pavilion.
As far as Xavier is concerned, there are going to be a lot of people that hop off of this bandwagon if they end up losing at Butler on Saturday, which is something that seems fairly likely if Sumner can’t get healthy by then. The Musketeers have depth and weapons at every position … except for the point guard spot. They need Sumner to get healthy, and when — is? — he is able to get healthy and return to the floor is now the most important story line of Xavier’s season.
Because with Sumner, they can win the Big East and get to a Final Four.
I don’t know if they can without him.