There were three factors that added more drama before the opening tip of the contest between Villanova and Xavier. The first element of the story developed on New Year’s Eve, when the Musketeers were manhandled by Villanova by a final score of 95-64 and even before the final buzzer sounded, many pundits were calling for a different Xavier team to show up for the rematch.
Another factor that added to the drama was the ranking of both squads entering the national televised game. The anticipation became palpable on February 8th as Villanova became for the 1st time in school history the number one ranked team in the country. Xavier was not to be outdone and they were able to elevate their ranking to number 5 in the nation. Finally, both teams entered the contest with the identical overall record of 24-3 and something had to give.
The first half was back and forth action between the two combatants. Villanova was able to break out to a 19-13 lead, but Xavier responded and J.P. Macura was able to hit back-to-back threes that gave Xavier a 36-27 lead. Xavier would spot their vaunted 1-3-1 defense and Villanova would use their full court pressure. At the expiration of the first half the score was a 40-37 in favor of the Musketeers.
As the second half played out Villanova’s major liability, their lack of size, was exposed and manipulated by Xavier. Daniel Ochefu, the biggest and best interior threat for Nova, committed his fourth foul early in the second half and was on the bench for nearly 10 minutes. Compounding the problem was 6-foot-8 Kris Jenkins fouling out with 8:47 left. Jenkins was having a career night by scoring 19 in the first half and finished with 22, but that could not deter Xavier.
The Musketeers were able to dominate the glass and prevent Villanova from gaining second chance opportunities with Ochefu and Jenkins on the sideline. Xavier was able to penetrate the lane without the threat of a shot blocker and finish plays at the rim with ease. As the game reached its waning moments, the outcome was no longer in doubt. Xavier was able to secure a win against the number one team in the country.
So, did this game live up to the hype? To the casual collegiate basketball fan and the Villanova basketball fan, this game will not be memorable. There was no buzzer beater and ‘Nova’s loss at the Cintas Center to Xavier will not be considered an upset. The fans in Cincinnati will always remember tonight not because of how the game was played but who won the game. All the loyal Musketeer fans can revel in the exaltation of knocking off the current king of the mountain.
While this contest did not live up to the hype, there is a possibility both teams can meet again. The Big East Championship will be played at the hollow ground of Madison Square Garden on the night of March 12. The way the brackets will be drawn, there will be one way both these teams meet again for a rubber match, and that would be in the Big East conference title game. Now, what better time to have round three between these two heavyweight programs?
Photo: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
-(1) Villanova faces (5) West Virginia in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament