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Big East showdown pits Musketeers against Wildcats

<p>The Villanova Wildcats return to The Pavilion on Monday night, as they are set to tangle with the Xavier Musketeers in a Big East Conference bout.</p>

Villanova, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Villanova Wildcats return to The Pavilion on Monday night, as they are set to tangle with the Xavier Musketeers in a Big East Conference bout.

Although Xavier is in the midst of a strong 15-6 campaign overall, including a 5-3 mark in the Big East, it has not fared well of late with losses in two straight and three of five. The Musketeers dropped their first home game of the season on Saturday to Seton Hall (68-60) and now head back out on the road, where they've gone 2-2.

Villanova is fresh off a season-long three-game road trip and came away with triumphs in all three contests to improve to 19-2 on the season at 7-1 in league play, a half-game behind Creighton for first place. The Wildcats dismissed Temple on Saturday afternoon, 90-74, and will welcome a return to The Pavilion, where they have yet to lose this season.

The Wildcats have a 16-4 advantage in the all-time series versus their new conference rival, but the Musketeers won the most recent matchup in 2006, 71-66.

The Musketeers held a brief lead in the second half of their contest over the weekend but fell victim to a 14-4 run by Seton Hall and could never climb back in it from there. Both teams shot an identical 21-of-47 from the field, but Seton Hall drained eight 3-pointers, compared to just two for Xavier. Semaj Christon paced the losing effort with 21 points and six assists, while Matt Stainbrook tallied a double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds.

Despite Xavier's poor performances in back-to-back games, it has still impressed overall this season by shooting a lofty 47.4 percent from the field for 75.1 ppg, while allowing 67.5 ppg on just 41.8 percent shooting. It also boasts a strong +6.7 rebounding margin. Christon has established himself as one of the nation's best guards, sporting 17.1 ppg, 4.0 apg and 1.3 spg, all while shooting 50.2 percent from the field. Stainbrook (11.1 ppg, 8.8 rpg) is a nightly double-double threat, and Justin Martin (10.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and Isaiah Philmore (9.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg) have also been solid.

After leading by just five at intermission at Temple in their latest bout, the Wildcats quickly put the game out of reach early in the second stanza with a 23-6 run. They shot 52.5 percent from the field on the day, including 12-of-29 from 3-point distance, while holding the Owls to under 37 percent shooting. Pacing five players in double figures was James Bell, who was 5-of-10 from beyond the arc on his way to 19 points. JayVaughn Pinkston (13 points), Darrun Hilliard (12) and Daniel Ochefu (11) all grabbed seven rebounds apiece, while Dylan Ennis scored 10 off the bench.

Villanova has performed like one of the nation's best teams all season long, as it outshoots its opponents from the field, 46.1 percent to 40.1 percent, for a +13.0 scoring margin while ranking second in the Big East in scoring (80.9 ppg) and 3-pointers per game (9.0). Bell has drained a team-best 55 long-range buckets en route to 15.3 ppg, while adding 5.7 rpg and 1.3 spg for good measure. Pinkston tallies 14.9 ppg and 5.6 rpg, while Hilliard (13.5 ppg) and Ryan Arcidiacono (10.0 ppg, 3.5 apg) round out the double-digit scorers.

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