NCAA Basketball Picks: Take Xavier +4.5 Despite Jenkins' Return For Villanova

Willie Bee

Thursday, December 31, 2015 12:09 PM GMT

Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015 12:09 PM GMT

As if the college football betting card isn't already huge on New Year's Eve, the day tips with a great Big East basketball matchup that finds Villanova small home favorites vs. Xavier.

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NCAA Basketball Pick: Xavier +4.5

Best Line Offered: at Heritage

 

Talk about beginning the conference schedule with a bang. The Big East is certainly putting its initial stamp on the start of league play across the country, matching up its four schools in the latest rankings straight out of the chute on New Year's Eve.

The final day of the 2015 sports betting calendar begins with a noon (ET) tip-off just outside downtown Philadelphia where the unbeaten and No. 6 Xavier Musketeers visit the No. 16 Villanova Wildcats. FOX Sports 1 has the telecast, and about 2½ hours later, the CBS Sports Network will televise No. 12 Providence at No. 9 Butler.

Our focus is on the battle taking place at The Pavilion, and my first tip is if you're watching from home, hit the MUTE button so you don't have to hear Bill Rafferty. BetOnline started the NCAA Basketball odds with 'Nova at -3½, that spread now -4½ with 142 for the total.

These two schools have met 25 times, the last five as Big East foes after the league went through an overhaul. Villanova won all five of those, including last year's conference championship, covering chalk each time. The 69-52 decision in favor of the Wildcats easily stayed 'under' the 140 point scoreboard barrier, stopping a run of four consecutive 'overs' in the series that 'Nova leads by a wide 21-4 margin.

 

Balanced Scoring, Improved Defense Behind Fast Start By X-Men
Assuming any team will enter its conference slate undefeated is a stretch at the very least, but we should've expected Xavier (12-0 straight up, 9-3 against the spread) to get off to a good start and be among the top clubs in the country. Chris Mack returned three of his top four scorers from a team that went to the Sweet 16 last March in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, center Matt Stainbrook the biggest loss.

The Musketeers have managed to plug that hole in the form of 6-10 James Farr, the senior leading the team with 8.7 boards a game and one of five players scoring at least 10.3 PPG. While the balanced offense is getting a lot of press right now, the club is also improved on the defensive end, allowing about 6 PPG fewer than last season and top 50 in opponents' overall shooting (39.4%) and long-range success (30.1%).

Not only have the Musketeers gotten off to a school-best 12-0 start straight up, they've also been kind to college basketball bettors with 8-straight covers since a sloppy performance against Northern Kentucky about five weeks ago. Xavier pretty much blew through the AdvoCare Invitational Tournament during Thanksgiving, besting Dayton by 29 in the championship game, and has wins and covers in the only true road games at Michigan and nine days ago at Wake Forest.

 

Nova's Jenkins Expected To Play Thursday
Villanova (10-2 SU, 7-4 ATS) managed to shake off some if its rust from the Christmas break with a 20-point victory over Penn in a Big 5 matchup on Monday. Jay Wright's club came out on fire to build a 30-3 lead over the Quakers, then let off the gas to allow Penn to cover what was a closing 26½ point spread.

Perhaps the best news in that game was forward Kris Jenkins being able to play after spraining his right knee in the pre-Christmas win against Delaware. The 6-6 junior is still listed as questionable for Thursday's tilt, but all signs point to him being available off the bench at the very least.

The Wildcats boast some balanced scoring of their own with four players scoring in double-figures and Daniel Ochefu (9.5 ppg) not far off that pace. Wright is still dissatisfied with the team's outside shooting, 'Nova in the bottom quarter connecting on 31% from beyond the arc.

Yes, 'Nova has a stranglehold in this series and is at home, but my free NCAA Basketball pick will be to take the visitors and the points in what should be a tight contest.

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