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Villanova Shows It's the Lone CBB Team You Can Trust in Xavier Rout

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystJanuary 11, 2018

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 10: (L-R) Phil Booth #5, Denny Grace #40 and Peyton Heck #22 of the Villanova Wildcats celebrate the win over the Xavier Musketeers during the second half at the Wells Fargo Center on January 10, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Booth was the leading scorer with 21 points and Villanova won 89-65. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)
Corey Perrine/Getty Images

No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 10 Xavier was supposed to be an entertaining battle between national championship contenders, but it was instead an 89-65 blowout that the top-ranked Wildcats had effectively won early in the second half.

Typically, the stars for Villanova are Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. Both Wildcats have been in the top 10 of the KenPom.com Player of the Year standings for virtually the entire season, and they were solid, as usual.

Brunson had a few uncharacteristic misses early in the game, but it was just another efficient night at the office for him, finishing with 17 points, five assists and one turnover. And though Bridges did have one of the worst airballs you'll ever see from a three-and-D guy with lottery-pick potential, he was rock solid the rest of the game with 15 points, nine rebounds and a pair of steals.

But Phil Booth was the clear MVP of this one. He came out hotter than the sun, draining a triple less than 10 seconds into the game. He had 11 of Villanova's first 18 points and finished with a game-highand career-high21 points.

I'm probably not the first person to call them this, but the Killer Bees in Villanova's backcourt swarmed the Musketeers. Factor in 14 points from Eric Paschall and 11 from Donte DiVincenzo and this got ugly in a hurry.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for the game, and he made a perceptive point about what makes Villanova so tough to beat: 

Rob Dauster @RobDauster

Villanova's ability to invert their offense with Jalen Brunson in the post makes them that much more difficult to guard. Your PG posting up with a 4 and a 5 that can make threes around him? Good luck guarding that.

The scary thing is this wasn't even peak Villanova, and the Wildcats still smashed a Top 10 team by a 24-point margin.

After the game, head coach Jay Wright spoke with FS1's Rob Stone and Steve Lavin.

"We can still get a lot better. This was one of our better defensive efforts, and [Xavier] still got some numbers. But this was good for us. We have been poor defensively the last few games, so I'm going to tell them I'm proud of them first. But then we're going to go back to work on our defense and our rebounding."

Granted, no coach in the history of this sport has ever said, "We played a perfect game tonight. There's nothing more that we need to work on." However, this wasn't that usual dose of hot air after a great performance.

Villanova really did have noticeable miscues on both ends of the floor. Xavier only shot 3-of-17 from three-point range, but it missed a bunch of open looks following lackadaisical closeout efforts. And though the Wildcats made 12 triples, they had a subpar shooting night from beyond the arc thanks in part to some curious forces early in the shot clock.

Stone and Lavin asked Brunson to grade his performance in this game, and he gave himself a C.

Jalen Brunson
Jalen BrunsonMatt Slocum/Associated Press

"I just think I can play so much better," Brunson said. "I can be a better leader. I can do better defensively. Offense is going to be there, I have confidence in that no matter what. But I just have to make sure I'm being the best leader I can be, the best defender I can be."

And despite a self-proclaimed average performance from their Wooden Award candidate, they annihilated the No. 10 team in the nation during a time of year when every other contender is proving it shouldn't be trusted.

While this game was being played, No. 4 Michigan State went into overtime to survive at home against Rutgers. On Tuesday night, No. 2 West Virginia barely won at home against Baylor, and No. 3 Virginia got a similar fight at home against Syracuse.

Not one of the those three teams playing on the road is anything close to a guarantee to reach the NCAA tournament. You would think three of the highest ranked teams in the country would have no problem winning those matchups, but that hasn't been the case.

Villanova is the exception to the rule, because there are just too many weapons on this team. There are now six different Wildcats averaging at least 10 points per game, each of which has scored at least 15 points in a game four times already this season. The odds of four or more of those guys going cold on any given night are slim to none.

They're a little like 2016-17 UCLA in that regard. The Wildcats don't play at anywhere near the same tempo as those Bruins did, but they rarely commit turnovers, they have one of the best point guards in the nation and everyone is a threat to shoot from just about anywhere on the court. Unlike the Bruins, Villanova at least puts forth effort on defense and is showing improvement on that end of the floor.

Just to make sure you remember we're still discussing a sport with a chaotic tournament in which the best team often does not win, here are a few caveats to consider before you go betting your savings on Villanova to win the national championship.

Mikal Bridges
Mikal BridgesMatt Slocum/Associated Press

First, this was an awful performance from Xavier. Villanova played much better defense than it had been playing thus far in Big East games, and it set the tone early by contesting shots and denying entry passes. But with the exception of a few highlight-reel slams from Naji Marshall, the Musketeers just looked disinterested and overmatched.

Second, this is what always happens when Xavier plays at Villanova. Since joining the Big East in 2013-14, Xavier is winless against the Wildcats in Philadelphia, and all five games have been decided by at least a 13-point margin. Even when the X-Men went 26-4 during the regular season two years ago, one of those four losses was a 31-point shellacking at Villanova. It's not exactly Clemson going 0-58 all time in road games against North Carolina, but it does seem like Xavier saves its worst game of the season for the annual road trip to Villanova.

Having said that, I wrote an article earlier this week about whether you should be buying or selling current AP Top 10 teams as contenders to win the national championship, and my conclusion was that you should have more stock in Villanova than in any other team. This performance against Xavier didn't do anything to dissuade that position.

Things can change at a moment's notice in this sport. It wasn't that long ago that it felt like Duke and Michigan State were head-and-shoulders ahead of every other team in the country. But for the time being, Villanova is the one reliable force in what is otherwise a sea of unpredictability.

                        

Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.

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