Xavier-Villanova Preview

Villanova has been the class of the Big East in the past two seasons, while Xavier has merely been trying to make its presence felt in a new conference.

Now the Musketeers look to prove their historic start hasn't been a fluke as they face their toughest test in the league opener against the Wildcats.

In their first meeting since the 2015 Big East tournament title game, sixth-ranked Xavier looks to remain one of the nation's four unbeatens Thursday night when they try to end No. 16 Villanova's 33-game winning streak at The Pavilion.

The Wildcats have won the past two Big East regular-season titles while the Musketeers have finished third and sixth since arriving from the A-10 in 2012-13, reaching the NCAA Tournament both seasons.

The Musketeers appear poised to make a run at toppling Villanova this season after earning their highest ranking during their school-best 12-0 start.

"(Xavier) is a Sweet 16 team (2015) that has most of the team back," Wildcats coach Jay Wright told the team's official website. "That experience for a team is really valuable. ... You're seeing all that really evolve in their team this year."

A talented young backcourt has keyed Xavier's success. Sophomore Trevon Bluiett is averaging a team-high 14.7 points and 7.7 rebounds, while freshman Edmond Sumner ranks second with 11.7 points per game.

Sumner scored 13 of his season-high 21 points in the second half Dec. 22, and Bluiett had 14 of his 17 after halftime as Xavier rallied back from a 18-point deficit by shooting 59.0 percent in the second half of a 78-70 win at Wake Forest.

The Musketeers are averaging 81.4 points - more than five better than Villanova - with five players scoring in double figures. They've also been dominant on the boards, ranking in the top five nationally with a plus-12.9 rebounding margin.

Mack's squad, however, will be tested by the Wildcats, who rank in the top 15 nationally with 59.1 points allowed per game and are in the top 10 with a 37.1 defensive field-goal percentage. They only have a plus-1.0 rebounding margin, but amassed a 80-58 advantage on the glass over their past two.

"They challenge you when they're on the defensive end," Xavier coach Chris Mack said. "They're pecking at the ball. They fly to penetration and take charges."

Villanova (10-2) has regrouped following an 86-75 loss at then-No. 8 Virginia on Dec. 19 by topping Delaware and Penn by a combined 50 points at home.

This will be the first time a top 10 team has visited The Pavilion since No. 4 Pittsburgh defeated No. 9 Villanova 57-54 on Feb. 12, 2011. The Wildcats, however, have won there on 11 of the 14 occasions when both teams have been ranked.

Xavier has dropped five straight in this series by an average of 14.4 points, including a 69-52 loss in the Big East tournament title game March 14.

''As soon as the ball goes up, we're going to be ready,'' Villanova forward Daniel Ochefu insisted. ''Everyone knows, the Big East is a whole different beast.''

Freshman Jalen Brunson is gaining confidence for the Wildcats, shooting 9 for 18 from 3-point range over his last four games. He scored 20 of his season-high 22 points in the second half of Monday's 77-57 home win over Penn in Big 5 play and is third on the team in scoring at 11.7 points per game.

Brunson has helped pick up the scoring while Kris Jenkins deals with a sprained right knee he suffered against Delaware. The junior forward finished with just two points on three shots in 19 minutes off the bench on Monday.

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