VILLANOVA, Pa. – For the third straight season, the Villanova Wildcats will usher out the calendar year with a New Year’s Eve BIG EAST season opener. This time, it’s a Top 20 showdown as No. 6 Xavier visits No. 16 Villanova at the Pavilion on Thursday at noon.
Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery will be on the scene for FS1 while Villanova’s own Ryan Fannon and Whitey Rigsby handle the radio call on 610 Sports Radio AM.
“This is Big East time now,” stated Villanova head coach Jay Wright. “To have one of the top teams in our conference and in the country coming in for the opening game is really exciting and a great test for us. Xavier is playing as well as anyone in the country.”
The Musketeers are off to the best start in program history at 12-0 and feature a balanced scoring attack. Five players average between 14.7 ppg (Trevon Bluett) and 10..3 ppg (Jalen Reynolds).
“This is a disciplined, well-coached team,” states Wright. “You can just see the maturity in what they do. This is a Sweet 16 team (2015) that has most of the team back. That experience for a team is really valuable. You can see they’re taking the right aspects from the success they had last year with their commitment to defense and rebounding.
“You’re seeing all that really evolve in their team this year.”
Villanova, meanwhile, opens play on the heels of a 77-57 Philadelphia Big Five victory over Penn at the Pavilion on Monday night. The Wildcats (10-2) clamped down defensively on the Quakers to gain control early but Wright is of the opinion his squad has more work to do at that end of the court.
“I think we’re where I thought we’d be at this point,” stated Wright. “I still think we need to be a better defensive team and a better rebounding team. And offensively I think we’re going to be pretty good. I guess what’s surprising is that our numbers look good defensively, but our offensive numbers, like 3-point shooting percentage, don’t look as good.”
Xavier coach Chris Mack was asked for his impression of the Wildcats on the BIG EAST coaches teleconference call on Tuesday.
“Coach Wright does an incredible job of getting his players to play extremely hard,” said Mack. “They challenge you when they’re on the defensive end, every possession. They’re pecking at the ball. They fly to penetration and take charges. They gang rebound and they speed teams up.
“A lot has been made about how they play offensively. He gives them tremendous freedom. They shoot the ball, they share the ball as well as any team we’ll play all year. But to me, when I watch Villanova this year and last year, I just think of the tremendous effort they play with on the defensive end.”
Like the other nine BIG EAST teams, this will be a busy week for the Wildcats. All 10 teams are in action on Saturday, with the Wildcats visiting Creighton in the fifth of five conference games to air nationally on FS1. Tipoff time is set for 10 p.m. eastern standard time.
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