Busting Brackets

Villanova fends off Xavier in Wildcats' home-opener

Xavier v Villanova
Xavier v Villanova / Mitchell Leff/GettyImages

In the Cats’ third game of Big East (in-conference) action, ‘Nova played host to the feisty Musketeers of Xavier, and an end-of-game, buzzer-beater miss by the away team allowed the Philly suburbanites to escape with the one-point victory. As has (often) been the case throughout much of the Wildcats’ 14-game season, the maturity and excellence of its defense was on full display in ‘Nova’s tenth victory of the season and its third in Big East play (10-4, 3-0).

While the Wildcats only managed to drop 10 of its 30 three-pointers and 38.2 percent of (all of) its shots within the home nail-biter, the tenacity of its defense was another story; as it never let up and (it ultimately) carried them to victory by limiting the opponent to just 5 three-pointers (on 18 3-pt attempts) and 36.8 percent-shooting from the field. Thanks to (what I’m choosing to call) a miraculous, “5-point play” by ‘Nova’s Hakim Hart towards the end of the first half that included an and-1 layup, a missed free-throw (off the front-iron), a rebound on-the-miss (by Hart), another and-1 layup (on the put-back), and a made free-throw; Villanova was able to protect its slim-lead (for the time being) and enter the locker room in relatively high spirits given its 5-point advantage (34-29).

During the first ten minutes (or so) of the second half, Villanova kept Xavier at arms length and (even) increased its lead to as much as 10 points by continuing to play solid defense, sinking timely buckets, and (by) snatching big rebounds before the Musketeers made their push.

One could argue (that) Nova wouldn’t have been able to defend its home-floor without the 13-point advantage that it gained in bench-scoring over the Musketeers; 28 to 15. With the offensive contributions from both Hakim Hart (14 pts; 5-for-7 shooting) and Brendan Hausen (12 pts; 4-for-7 all from-3) , Villanova was able to keep Xavier at bay ; despite the fact that Eric Dixon (13 pts on 2-for-7 shooting & 8 of 10 free-throws) was the only other-Wildcat who reached double-figures in the scoring department.

Alongside (his) teammate Jordan Longino, TJ Bamba led the Cats in minutes played (at) against Xavier with 32 and both players finished the home contest boasting a stat-line of 8 points on 3 made-shots. Nearing the age of 24, Tyler Burton is (clearly) an experienced player whose own maturity has been a huge asset for the 2023-‘24 Wildcats while (also) allowing him to be a (if not the) major glue-guy. Unfortunately, Burton’s minutes were capped at 18 against Xavier once the Richmond transfer found himself in foul trouble (via 3 early-fouls) and (once) his recurring struggles on the offensive end (1 for 7 w/ 3 points) were such that his coach wasn’t able to justify leaving him in the game down-the-stretch.

While it’s true Lance Ware wasn’t able to make a field goal and finished the game with just 2 points and 3 rebounds, the Kentucky transfer played 14 key minutes, made both of his free throws and (he) was able to use his innate size and athleticism to tame the Musketeers’ efforts (in) rebounding the basketball on both ends. Earlier in the contest, Mark Armstrong showed off his impressive verticality and finishing ability by driving to the basket and converting a near-layup in the paint (that came) over a much taller/bigger Xavier defender.

Against Xavier, Armstrong played half-the-game (/20 mins) and recorded 6 points on 3-of-8 shooting (0 for 3 from-3) along with a couple of rebounds/turnovers. Late in the game, the refs were responsible for blowing a couple of key calls that (both) went against the Wildcats. The first error took place when the refs gave the ball to Xavier w/ under 5-mins remaining even though (previously) they should’ve lost (possession of) it; once Hakim Hart deflected the ball towards half-court and proceeded to run towards it alongside the Xavier guard who last-touched the ball (on his own chest) as he and Hart fell to the floor (in pursuit of it) before the ball rolled out-of-bounds.

Then, an even tougher call was made by the refs in the game’s final minute that (also) gave the ball to Xavier even though the (original-) call on the floor was Villanova-basketball after Hart and a Xavier defender tried to grab the ball under Xavier’s basket (/on a Nova offensive-possession) before one of the players knocked the ball out.

Not unlike the refs incompetence during the end of regulation in the Nova-Creighton game, Nova dodged a huge bullet when the refs wrongly gave the ball to Xavier w/ between 20-&-30 seconds-remaining (in the game), and the Musketeers proceeded to miss a short bunny (/shot) that would’ve given them a one-point lead with 12.5 seconds left to play.

Once Eric Dixon secured the pivotal rebound on what would’ve been a huge bucket for Xavier (as it would’ve given them the lead), the Villanova big man was fouled and drained a pair of clutch free-throws to put the (score at 66-65 & the) Cats up a three-ball before the Musketeers traveled the length of the floor in about 8-or-9 seconds and scored a quick-deuce that cut the Nova lead down to 1. After that, Dixon received the inbounds pass and was fouled (again) ; sending him to the line for another pair of big free throws w/ 5 tics remaining.

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This time; however, Dixon missed BOTH foul shots; but was (also) able to get back in time to put up a hand in the shooter’s face during the last shot (of the game) which came from roughly 20-feet and clanked off the front of the rim. Although Dixon was 8-for-10 from the foul-line against Xavier and he’s shooting free throws at a clip of 84 percent this year, don’t let Bill Raftery or any other commentator convince you that Dixon is hands-down the right guy for that kind of situation. Sure, he’s a good shooter. But he’s not a REALLY good shooter. Then again, Hausen and Armstrong aren’t easy to trust in that situation; as they’re (both) underclassmen who (either) aren’t comfortable handling the ball (Hausen) or aren’t great at the free-throw line (Armstrong).