In some ways, Wednesday’s top-10 showdown at the Wells Fargo Center failed to live up to its billing.
Blame Villanova’s dominance.
Phil Booth poured in 21 points to lead the top-ranked Wildcats to an 89-65 rout of No. 10 Xavier. Jalen Brunson added 17 points and five assists for the Wildcats (15-1 overall, 3-1 Big East), who returned to the No. 1 spot in the rankings Monday.
Kerem Kanter scored a team-high 16 for the Musketeers (15-3, 3-2), who have now dropped two straight despite looking like one of the best teams in the nation over the first couple of months of the season.
• As they’re prone to do, the Wildcats set the tone early with a couple of quick three-pointers and an Omari Spellman block within the first two minutes. That’s a good indicator as to how well-coached and well-prepared the ’Cats always are, no matter the opponent.
• Booth led the charge early with 11 points in the first six and a half minutes. He shot a cool 8 for 11 and 5 for 8 from three-point range for the game.
• Doesn’t it seem like this team just doesn’t miss sometimes? Xavier leads the Big East in field goal percentage defense (.401), but ’Nova was able to solve it with ease by shooting 55.2 percent from the field. The Wildcats’ second-half shooting percentage (62.1) was even better.
• Villanova, which had been averaging 89.3 points per game in its first three Big East games, also dialed up the defensive intensity by holding Xavier to 65 points on 41.4 percent shooting. The Wildcats also scored 18 points off 15 Xavier turnovers (see story).
• The play of the game probably came midway through the first half when a Donte DiVincenzo (11 points) steal set up a Booth-to-Eric-Paschall (14 points) alley-oop that brought down the house and gave Villanova a commanding 22-9 lead.
• Xavier — a very good team that’s coming off an Elite Eight run last March — managed to initially hang around, scoring six quick points after the alley-oop. But the packed Wells Fargo Center crowd, sensing a shift in the momentum, picked up the noise and Brunson responded to end a four-minute scoring drought.
• Surprisingly, the Musketeers never really got too close again — a familiar trend for a team that, despite all its success, has beaten ’Nova only once since the new iteration of the Big East began in 2013 and often gets blown out.
• Trevon Bluiett, who ranks fifth in the Big East in scoring, was held to 11 points and struggled to make an impact. J.P. Macura, a standout senior, scored only five.
• A highlight for Xavier came midway through the first half with a soaring one-handed dunk for Naji Marshall. But the Wildcats responded shortly after with a Booth dunk to restore the momentum in their favor and take the drama out of the second half.
• If any team can end Villanova’s four-year run as Big East regular-season champs, you still gotta think it’s Xavier — although with two conference losses, the Musketeers may need to be close to perfect the rest of the way. Creighton and Seton Hall, also in the Top 25, will of course be contenders, too.
• Jay Wright, fresh off his milestone victory in Saturday’s 100-90 win over Marquette, now has 401 wins at Villanova. He’s 13 away from matching the all-time mark set by Alexander Severance, who won 413 games from 1936-61.
• Villanova hits the road for its next three games, traveling to St. John’s, Georgetown and UConn before returning to the Wells Fargo Center to face Providence on Jan. 23.
• There must be a big playoff game coming up or something. A few E-A-G-L-E-S chants broke out in the final minute of the game as Villanova’s walk-ons duked it out on the floor.