AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI — A win over No. 1 Villanova on Wednesday night would amount to a huge breakthrough for a Xavier team that’s put together the best season in school history so far.
The fifth-ranked Musketeers (24-3, 12-3) have a chance to knock off the top-ranked team in the country, something they’ve done numerous times. But they’ve never beaten the Wildcats (24-3, 13-1) in Big East play. They’ve never won the regular-season league title, either, and need a win to keep that in play.
“They’re (high) stakes,” senior forward James Farr said. “We played terrible at Villanova.”
The game marks the first time in the reconfigured Big East that a pair of Top 5 teams has played each other. In the last three seasons, Xavier is 0-6 against the Wildcats, including a 69-52 loss in the league tournament last season and a 95-64 defeat on Dec. 31 in Philadelphia.
In that last game, freshman point guard Edmond Sumner fell hard in the early minutes and had to be wheeled off the court to a hospital. Xavier never recovered from the fright and the loss of its point guard.
Sumner missed three games with a concussion and soreness and took some time to get fully back into form. He’s scored at least 20 points in two of the last five games and is coming off a 22-point performance in an 88-70 win at Georgetown on Saturday.
“People ask me all the time: Do you think the game would have ended differently if Edmond had not gotten hurt?” coach Chris Mack said. “I don’t know. We can’t think backward. We’ve got to think forward.”
A win would keep the Musketeers in the running for a league title and put them in line for no worse than a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament; they’ve never done better than a third seed. Villanova finishes with games at Marquette and home against DePaul and Georgetown. Xavier plays at Seton Hall and hosts Creighton.
Mostly, it would challenge Villanova’s claim as the league’s dominant team.
“Oh, yeah, it’s very important,” Farr said. “We’ve beaten every team in the league except Villanova. I don’t want to go out in my career saying, ‘Hey, we never beat those guys. I wish we could have beaten those guys.’ Maybe we’ll see them in the Big East tournament as well, but it would be very special to beat them here at Cintas on the home court.”
It’s the first time a top-ranked team has visited the Cintas Center since it opened for the 2000-01 season. The Musketeers have won three of their last seven games against No. 1 teams at other venues, including a pair of wins over crosstown rival Cincinnati.
It’ll be the fourth time that Villanova has played a Top 10 team this season. The Wildcats have lost to Oklahoma and Virginia and beaten Xavier without its point guard.
“Losing Edmond did a lot for us,” Farr said. “But you know, we pride ourselves on being a deep team. We got challenged and we didn’t answer the challenge at Villanova. It’s going to be a different story tomorrow. Tomorrow is a players game — who wants it more? So we’ll be ready.”