TV: Fox (Gus Johnson, Jim Jackson, and Shannon Spake)
Radio: 610 Sports Radio (Ryan Fannon and Whitey Rigsby)
CINCINNATI, Ohio – The No. 2 ranked Villanova Wildcats kick off a run of three consecutive games played away from home Saturday afternoon when they meet the Xavier Musketeers (18-6 overall, 8-3 BIG EAST) in a clash of the teams in the top two spots in the BIG EAST standings.
“We’re playing a great team in one of the great settings in college basketball, the Cintas Center” stated Villanova head coach Jay Wright Thursday.
Last season, No 5 ranked Xavier upended No. 1 ranked Villanova 90-83 in the Cintas Center in an energized setting. The atmosphere figures to be no less raucous on Saturday for a contest that will air nationally on Fox.
Since these two teams met at the Pavilion on Jan. 10, in what was a 79-54 Villanova victory, Xavier has lost standout guard Edmond Sumner to a season ending knee injury. But the Musketeers, coached by Chris Mack, won at Creighton last Saturday and then downed DePaul at home on Wednesday night.
“Chris has done a great job getting them right back on track after losing Sumner, who is one of the best players in the league,” Wright stated. “They’re actually a little more dangerous in a way than they were. They just have so many shooters on the floor at one time. They’re just so explosive.
“It should be a great matchup.”
The Wildcats (23-2 overall, 10-2 BIG EAST) have posted victories over Providence, St. John’s and Georgetown in the last 10 days. In each game, the pattern has been similar, with VU building a first half lead that they carry into the second half before an opponent rally tightens matters for the final minutes. The ‘Cats have prevailed each time but Wright and his staff are well aware the trend can be hard to sustain, especially on the road.
Sophomore guard Jalen Brunson (14.1 ppg) again made a series of key plays in the final moments, including a clutch steal, to help cement Tuesday night’s win.
“Jalen is really comfortable in his role,” stated Wright. “He’s the leader out there and that’s what he’s comfortable with. Last year, he had to take a backseat to Ryan Arcidiacono, who is a very strong personality who was the leader on the floor and everyone knew it. Jalen was in more of a secondary role and I thought that was one of the most impressive aspects of our season, that a guy that is that confident and that capable would take a secondary role and be that enthusiastic about it.
“Now, you see Jalen as the leader and that’s really who he is.”
On Thursday it was announced that Brunson and senior national player of the year candidate Josh Hart were both named to the list of 30 finalists for the Naismith Trophy, given annually to the nation’s top player.
The Wildcats are slated to fly directly from here to Chicago following Saturday’s game to get set for their next game on Monday night at DePaul (9 p.m. on CBS Sports Network and 610 Sports Radio). The final part of this three games away from home comes on Saturday, Feb. 18, when they journey to meet Seton Hall at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.