In years past, February in the Big East meant Villanova would have to battle the likes of Syracuse, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Louisville if it wanted to win a league title, but that is no longer the case.
The Orange, Irish, Panthers and Cardinals are all in new conferences, and leftovers Marquette and Georgetown have struggled all year.
The Wildcats got a taste of some of the league's new blood when the Xavier Musketeers visited the Pavilion on Monday.
Coming into the contest, Villanova was an impressive 19-2 overall and 7-1 in the Big East and ranked No. 6 in the country. The Wildcats were tied with Creighton in the loss column in the Big East standings and did not waste an opportunity to put some space between themselves and fourth-place Xavier by winning in dominating fashion, 81-58.
Villanova coach Jay Wright knew his squad had to get better at other aspects of the game besides just scoring (the Wildcats scored at least 90 points in six games this year), per the Associated Press (via Yahoo! Sports) as he prepared his team for the Musketeers:
We definitely have to get better, but we can definitely score. I just don't want us to rely on that. Good teams have to be able to find ways to win on the nights when you're not making shots. But this team has a lot of shooters, and they're unselfish.
Despite that scoring prowess, the first half, as SB Nation's Villanova beat writer Eric Kelly pointed out, was a rather ugly display of offense:
If you like points, change the channel. Villanova shooting 36% (11/3) and Xavier shooting 32% (8/25). Teams also combined for 15 turnovers.— Eric Kelly (@Eric_Kelly6) February 4, 2014
The Wildcats went to work in the second half, though, nearly doubling their output from the first half as they outscored Xavier 53-36 in the final 20 minutes. Senior James Bell paced the Villanova attack, finishing with 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting, including six of the team's 11 three-pointers in the wire-to-wire victory.
The Musketeers fall to 15-7 overall and 5-4 in the conference. The loss to Villanova means Chris Mack's squad has now dropped three in a row.
To make matters worse for the Musketeers, it was the first game in 12 tries that they failed to outrebound their opponent. Xavier led the Big East in rebounding margin coming into the game at plus-6.7.
Villanova has now won 17 of the 21 meetings between the two schools, but Xavier will have a chance to exact revenge on their new Big East brethren when the Wildcats travel to face the Musketeers on Mar. 6.
Semaj Christon, Xavier: B-
It's never easy to walk into the arena of a Top 10 team and come away with a victory, but arguably the best way to do so is by getting an excellent game from your superstar.
Xavier didn't get Semaj Christon's A-game, but he turned in a solid effort in the loss with 17 points and four assists.
Christon is one of the best players in the country that no one talks about. Coming into the game with Villanova, Christon led the Musketeers in scoring at 17.1 points behind an impressive 50 percent shooting clip from the field and a 46 percent mark from the three-point line.
He wasn't assertive early in the second half when the Musketeers needed him the most. When he was aggressive, Christon got to the rim with his explosive first step, but it didn't come often enough when the contest was in the balance.
Christon only hit one three and turned the ball over twice, which also didn't help Xavier's cause.
James Bell, Villanova: A
James Bell had the type of game for Villanova that Xavier needed Christon to produce if it wanted to pull off the upset.
While the Musketeers' leading scorer simply didn't do enough to lead his team to victory, Villanova's leading scorer turned in an incredible game.
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Bell did more than just score, though, as he finished with eight rebounds, three assists and a block.
His efforts across the board were critical because the team's second-leading scorer, JayVaughn Pinkston, dealt with foul trouble for much of the second half. His shooting prowess also opened up opportunities for his teammates during the critical second-half spurt, as defenders came crashing in on Bell whenever he had the ball.
JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova: B
Pinkston's numbers would have been better if he didn't sit for the majority of the second half with foul trouble, but his early impact was important enough that he is worth mentioning here.
Pinkston finished the game with 11 points and eight rebounds, but that wasn't all he did. He hit all three of his three-point attempts to help set the sharpshooting tone early on and also dished out three assists. Whenever Xavier ran multiple defenders at the 6'7" Pinkston, he had no trouble finding open teammates.
The Musketeers are a formidable rebounding team, and much of the concern from a Villanova standpoint coming into this game was how it would handle Xavier on the boards.
Pinkston's efforts on the glass were absolutely critical when the Wildcats began to separate themselves from Xavier.
The victorious Wildcats will look to extend their four-game winning streak on Friday in a home contest with a Seton Hall squad that has performed at an inconsistent level all season.
As for Xavier, it will get a chance at redemption at home against Providence on Saturday. The Musketeers started their current three-game losing streak with a loss at Providence on Jan. 25.
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