December 30, 2014

Xavier continues to cement its status as Villanova's chief competition in the Big East, a title Georgetown had been expected to hold.

The Hoyas can still stake a claim to that mantle, however, when they visit the fifth-ranked Musketeers Tuesday night in a key conference matchup for both programs.

Georgetown was picked second in the Big East preseason poll, but it's been Xavier (16-1, 4-1) that's loomed as the primary threat to Villanova's quest for a third consecutive conference regular-season title by orchestrating the best 17-game start in school history. The Musketeers also hold their highest ranking in the AP Top 25 after bouncing back from a 31-point New Year's Eve loss to the first-place Wildcats to win four straight league games.

The Hoyas (11-7, 4-2) have remained in the chase by winning four of their first five in conference play prior to Saturday's 55-50 loss to then-No. 6 Villanova, in which they shot a season-low 32.7 percent against the Big East's top defense.

D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, averaging 18.7 points in the Big East, was held to five in the second half three days after matching a career high with 33 in Georgetown's 93-73 rout of St. John's.

"I think we were missing shots," coach John Thompson III said. "We got some point-blank shots in the paint that didn't go in. We got some open looks for guys we want open looks for and they didn't go in."

Another offensive struggle could be in the works, as the Musketeers have limited opponents to 36.4 percent during their streak. They kept Marquette scoreless for over eight minutes during a 21-0 first-half run that fueled Saturday's 74-66 victory.

"Any time a team goes 4 for 25 from the 3-point line and you hold a team to a 34 percent field-goal percentage, you're doing something right," coach Chris Mack said. "Our zone really, really bothered them."

Xavier also gave the Hoyas plenty of trouble in winning all three meetings last season, including a 70-53 victory at the Cintas Center and a 65-63 win in the Big East tournament semifinals. Georgetown shot 24.1 percent from 3-point range and 38.6 overall for the series.

The Hoyas have held six of their last seven opponents under 40 percent and forced Villanova into a 3-of-18 performance on 3s. They've hit a league-best 40.4 percent of their 3-pointers in conference play, led by Smith-Rivera's 16 makes in 33 attempts.

Georgetown does rank eighth of the league's 10 teams in rebounding margin, an area where the Musketeers have excelled all season. Xavier's plus-10.8 advantage on the glass is among the top 10 nationally and it outrebounded Marquette 49-38, with James Farr totaling a career-best 19 along with 16 points.

The Musketeers also enter Tuesday's matchup at full strength after getting Edmond Sumner back against Marquette. The talented redshirt freshman guard had 15 points and five assists after missing three games with a concussion sustained from a frightening collision during the Villanova game.

Xavier has won four of five against Georgetown since joining the Big East in 2013, including both meetings at the Cintas Center.

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