Cincinnati, OH (SportsNetwork.com) - The sixth-ranked Villanova Wildcats will attempt stay on top of the Big East Conference standings on Thursday night when they venture to the Cintas Center to take on the Xavier Musketeers.
Villanova has been nothing short of outstanding this season at 26-3 and 14-2 in the Big East, and with Creighton's loss earlier in the week, it has earned at least a share of the conference title for the first time since 2006, a crown it can wear outright with a win in either of its last two games. The Wildcats are currently winners of four straight games, most recently downing Marquette on Sunday, 73-56.
Xavier is in the midst of strong campaign itself, going 20-10 overall with a 10-7 mark in conference action, and it has one of the nation's best homecourt advantages, winning 15 of 16 at the Cintas Center. The Musketeers are fresh off a road loss on Monday night, falling at Seton Hall, 71-62.
Back on Feb. 3, Villanova made easy work of Xavier at home, 81-58, to improve its standing in the all-time series to 17-4.
The Wildcats made easy work of Marquette in their latest bout, running out to an 11-point lead at intermission and never allowing their advantage to dip to single digits the rest of the way. Although they shot just a modest 43.4 percent from the field, they knocked down 12-of-29 from 3-point range and forced the Golden Eagles into 15 turnovers. Darrun Hilliard set a career high with 26 points on 5-of-8 from beyond the arc, Josh Hart came off the bench to score 13 and JayVaughn Pinkston netted 11.
Villanova has displayed excellence on both ends of the court this season, shooting a lofty 46.2 percent from the field for 79.2 ppg while allowing just 66.8 ppg on 40.1 percent shooting for the nation's 11th-best scoring margin (+12.3). The squad also lives in the green in terms of the rebounding (+3.8) and turnover (+2.0) battles and drains 9.3 3-pointers per game. James Bell has a team-best 79 long-range buckets on his way to 15.1 ppg to go with 6.0 rpg and more than a steal per contest. Pinkston (14.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Hilliard (14.1 ppg) also net in double figures, while Ryan Arcidiacono (9.9 ppg) is on the doorstep.
The Musketeers did not come out strong earlier in the week, as they fell behind by 11 at the half to Seton Hall and could never regain control from there. They were outshot from the field, 46.9 percent to 37 percent, and finished a dreadful 3-of-22 from beyond the arc (.136). Semaj Christon shot 9- of-18 from the field and 9-of-11 at the free-throw for 28 points but coughed up five turnovers as well. Isaiah Philmore was also solid in the setback with 11 points and nine rebounds.
Xavier is one of the few teams in the Big East to have a better field-goal percentage than Villanova (.473) and it pours in 72.2 ppg, while allowing only 67.1 ppg. It also boasts a strong rebounding margin (+5.2) but gives away some of those extra possessions with a -1.7 turnover margin. Christon shoots 49.3 percent from the field on his way to a team-best 17.0 ppg, while also finding time to hand out more than four assists per outing. Justin Martin (11.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and Matt Stainbrook (10.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.0 bpg) are also integral pieces to the Musketeers' puzzle.