Junior forward Jayvaughn Pinkston was three of three from beyond the arc in Monday’s home win over Xavier. (Rachel Bleier/The Villanovan)
by Ryan Peloquin
Fresh off the AP Poll recognizing the Wildcats as the 6th best team in the country, Villanova went into action Monday night in the Pavilion looking to prove they are a bonafide one seed in the NCAA tournament.
Enter the Xavier Musketeers team led by sophomore sensation Semaj Christon. Xavier, though not ranked, was in the top 25 conversation with an RPI of 47 and Ken Pomeroy ranking of 38.
Yet, Monday proved that Xavier is not quite ready to contend for the title in the new Big East, and the 6th best team in the country proved it. Villanova stomped Xavier by a final score of 81-58.
The win gives Villanova its 20th win of the 2013-2014 season, coupled with only two losses. Villanova is 8-1 in the new Big East, while Xavier falls to 5-4 in the conference, 15-7 overall.
This impressive Villanova team continues to execute night in and night out, beating—or blowing out—teams they should, and pushing similar—or better—teams to the limit.
As Villanova fans, it is difficult not to be confident about this squad’s chances come March. Meanwhile, Xavier has dropped three in a row.
Back to Monday. The first half was sloppy for both teams as the Wildcat defense carried them into the half with a 28-22 lead. Despite the lead, the ’Cats shot 36.7 percent from the field and only 30.8 percent from three.
The lead could have been attributed to Xavier simply shooting worse, at 30.8 percent from the field. Couple that with an assist to turnover ratio of 0.45, and it was no surprise the ’Cats held the lead.
“It was Villanova’s night, certainly in the second half,” Xavier Head Coach Chris Mack said.
That may have been an understatement seeing as the ’Cats were out for blood in the second. By the time the 40th minute was reached, the Wildcats were shooting 50 percent overall, and nearly 40 percent from three.
The Wildcats dominated on both sides of the ball following the first half, finishing the game with an advantage of nine in the turnover battle and a plus 11 in the assist column.
The Xavier backcourt could not compete with Villanova’s plethora of experienced guards, who lead the ’Cats to a 3.57 assist to turnover ratio. Compare that with Xavier’s sub one ratio and it is no surprise Villanova won by 22.
Senior guard James Bell continues to anchor this squad and he seems to get better as Villanova nears tourney time. Bell finished with a game high 27 points, along with eight boards, three dimes and one block.
The 27 points is just three points from his career high and he is averaging 21.3 in his last six games. Given his recent play, Bell is certainly one of the best guard/forwards in the Big East—if not the country—with his 15 points per game, 6.0 boards, 1.5 assists and his 1.29 steals per game.
Within the Big East, Bell ranks tenth in points and steals, and 11th in rebounds.
“[Upper classmen] are just so nice to have in college basketball, guys that are really mature and they’ve seen it all,” Head Coach Jay Wright said about Bell and the rest of the upperclassmen. “They’ve been there. Just nothing bothers them and they know what we need, they come out and do it. It’s real simple.”
Xavier had no answer for Bell. NBA prospect Semaj Christon posted his season average of 17 points, but on a measly six for 15 shooting.
Combine that with only four assists and it was safe to say the Wildcats held the sophomore in check. Xavier’s 6-foot-10-inch junior center Matt Stainbrook was the most effective Musketeer against the Wildcats’ guard heavy lineup.
Stainbrook, a Western Michigan transfer, posted 14 points and 11 rebounds in the blowout loss.
Junior guard Darrun Hilliard and redshirt forward JayVaughn Pinkston both chipped in on the blowout as well, adding 17 and 11 points respectively.
Pinkston added eight boards, while Hilliard pitched in three dimes, a steal and a block. In fact, as a whole, the Wildcats moved the ball around better than have all season. As a squad, Villanova tallied a season high 25 assists, with six Wildcats posting at least three assists.
Despite the optimism surrounding this team, Wright warned about the growing expectations.
“We just have to keep getting better,” Wright said. “Everyone is getting better in this league, and if you stop getting better, you’re not one of the best teams. We can learn from this one, and we can still get better.”
Nevertheless, the ’Cats are as good as anyone. Ken Pomeroy has Villanova with the 8th best offense and 29th best defense and, as mentioned, the AP has the ’Cats as the 6th best overall.