Observations: Villanova, Xavier with plenty on the line in tonight’s game

When No. 5 Xavier hosts No. 1 Villanova on Wednesday, it’ll be the most anticipated Big East game since the conference realigned.

Reigning champion?

Check.

Upstart challenger?

Check.

Two teams competing for No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament?

That’s in play as well.

The battle between the Wildcats and Musketeers at 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday night at the Cintas Center has the feel of a big game and it rightfully should.

This just in
Mississippi State’s Malik Newman (back) will be a game-time decision for Wednesday’s game vs. Texas A&M, a school spokesman told CBS Sports.

Two years ago Villanova and Creighton were the two best teams in the Big East, but neither of those teams wound up as No. 1 seeds on Selection Sunday.

That’s still in play for the two teams that will play Wednesday in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Both are 24-3.

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Both have coaches in Jay Wright and Chris Mack respectively that are coaching in the jobs that they’ve salivated for their entire lives because they’re coaching in the exact area where they began their lives.

And both are in position to give the Big East what it wanted when it decided to reconfigure its league a few years ago: great theatre.

Wednesday night will be special at the Cintas Center.

Vanderbilt is putting itself in position to be in position

The Dores entered this season with the highest expectations they’ve had in years, but only recently have resembled the team that many believed would have a chance to win the SEC.

Nevertheless, that’s still a possibility.

Kevin Stallings’ team earned an impressive 87-74 win at Florida on Tuesday night and improved to 17-11 overall and 9-6 in SEC play.

Vanderbilt now trails Kentucky by two games in the conference standings and will host the Wildcats on Saturday in Nashville, Tennessee (4 p.m. ET, CBS / CBSSports.com).

How have the Dores won four of their last five games?

The re-emergence of Damian Jones.

The broad-shouldered big man is averaging 20.7 points and 11.0 rebounds over his three games.

Wayne Selden will be the key for Kansas in March

The 6-foot-5 junior had two critical baskets down the stretch in the Jayhawks’ 66-60 win at Baylor on Tuesday, but for Kansas to get to the Final Four in Houston and have a chance to win a national title it needs Selden to regain the scoring prowess he displayed earlier this season.

The Massachusetts native reached double-figures in 10 of the Jayhawks’ first 11 games this season, but has struggled a bit offensively since scoring 33 points against Kentucky on Jan. 30 at Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

In the seven games that Kansas has played since facing Kentucky, Selden is only averaging 9.0 points while shooting 37.7 percent from the field and 24.2 percent from 3-point range.

Those numbers have to improve if the Jayhawks are going to get back to the Final Four for the first time since 2012.

This and That:

  • Jaysean Paige has quietly emerged as West Virginia’s go-to scorer on the perimeter. The 6-2 senior had 34 points in Monday’s win over Iowa State and has scored 20 or more points in six of the Mountaineers’ 16 Big 12 games. Paige is averaging 14.2 points.
  • Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall told CBS Sports on Tuesday that Conner Frankamp’s ability to make open shots could be the key for the Shockers down the stretch. The Kansas transfer is only averaging 6.5 points since becoming eligible in December, but is a better shooter than he’s shown. Frankamp is just 5-of-16 from 3-point range over his last five games.
  • Utah is now 12-1 in games where Lorenzo Bonam scores in double-figures. The 6-4 guard isn’t the dynamic talent that Delon Wright was last year for the Utes, but he’s still capable of giving this team some pop on the perimeter. Bonam is currently averaging 9.5 points. Utah has quietly won four straight games.
  • Five of Iowa State’s top six scorers are averaging 30.6 minutes or more. Tired legs continue to be the main question mark surrounding the Cyclones as the calendar gets closer and closer to March. It will be interesting to see if Steve Prohm expands his rotation to seven guys and allocates more minutes for reserve Hallice Cooke.
  • VCU’s Justin Tillman is 14-21 from the field over his last three games and is averaging 11 points and 5.3 rebounds in just 16 minutes during that span. That’s called making the most out of your time on the floor.
  • UAB has power-five caliber size and several key players back from last year’s team that beat Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament. Jerod Haase again has a team that could win a game in the field of 68 — if it gets there. The Blazers are 22-5 overall and the team to beat in Conference-USA.
  • Iona’s A.J. English is the only player currently in college basketball this season averaging 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 5.0 assists. This is the name of a player who could emerge as a national story in March. The 6-4 English is averaging 22.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 6.1 assists for the Gaels, who are coming off back-to-back road wins at Monmouth and Siena.
  • Cincinnati’s Gary Clark is blossoming into an all-conference caliber player. The bouncy sophomore is averaging 14.4 points and 10.8 rebounds over his last five games while shooting 53.0 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from three-point range during that span. This guy is a problem.
  • Another reason to like Valpo if it reaches the NCAA Tournament? The Crusaders have three players in their rotation — Shane Hammink (LSU), Keith Carter (Saint Louis), and E. Victor Nickerson (Charlotte) — who all started their college careers at higher levels before transferring to play in the Horizon League. These types of guys always have something extra to prove if they’re fortunate enough to play in the field of 68.

Villanova and Xavier have plenty to play for on Wednesday.(USATSI)
Villanova and Xavier have plenty to play for on Wednesday. (USATSI)

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