Likely the last opportunity for the Pirates to knock off a ranked team this season (regular season, anyway), the Villanova Wildcats come to Brick City to tangle with Seton Hall.
2010-11 record: 19-6 (7-5 Big East)
2009-10 record: 25-8 (13-5 Big East; 2nd round NCAA)
Key losses: Scottie Reynolds, Reggie Redding, Taylor King
Key returnees: Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Maalik Wayns, Antonio Pena, Mouphtaou Yarou, Dominic Cheek
This game is going to be interesting for a few reasons.
Number 1- the last time the Wildcats came to the Rock, Scottie Reynolds dropped a then-Prudential Center record 40 PTS, essentially winning the game by himself. In that game, Jeremy Hazell hit a bank-shot 3-pointer to send it to OT with 3 Wildcats draped on him. Also, after that game, I stayed in bed for 3 days after catching a bad cough from overexerting myself, then walking from the Rock to Penn Station in the freezing cold. So you could say I have a strong sense memory from that one.
Number 2- the Wildcats had their 46-game home winning streak at The Pavilion broken by Pitt on Saturday. It was supposed to be the cherry-on-top win after they retired the #2 jersey of Randy Foye. Not only that, but Jonathan Mitchell had just stunned them with that 4-point play a few days before that. So they will come in ticked off just a little, don't you think?
Number 3- the Pirates are coming off the big win over Rutgers, in which they passed the Scarlet Knights in the standings.
So unlike last game, where it was the Pirates who came in ticked off, this game it will be the opposing team that is ticked off. This will definitely play some part in the game.
As always, Villanova is all about the guards, and this year's team is no different. Corey Fisher has stepped into the leading scorer's role left by Scottie Reynolds. Averaging 15.8 PTS and 5.2 AST, he is both the leading scorer and playmaker, making him the most important player for Jay Wright.
Corey Stokes, another New Jersey guard, is scoring at a much higher rate than in the past at 14.6 PTS. He's basically a glorified standstill shooter on the offensive end, but to his credit, he's making over 41% of his threes this year. He also leads the Big East in free throw percentage at 93% on 77 attempts and is a very good defender.
The third guard this year is sophomore Maalik Wayns, who just may be the fastest man in the Big East. He gets most of his 13.6 PTS via quick drives to the basket, where he either gets a layup or gets free throws (82% on those).
The guards are flanked in the post by the veteran Antonio Pena and the long and skilled Mouphtaou Yarou. Both are averaging right about 10 PTS and 7 REB, so they are serviceable bigs who play hard and give the Wildcats an inside presence.
The Villanova bench is also serviceable, with Dominic Cheek beginning to show flashes of good play, and Maurice Sutton and Isiah Armwood giving more length to the frontcourt.
The Wildcats have a good offense and a good defense, however, their top 3 scorers and shot-takers (Fisher, Stokes, Wayns) all shoot under 43% for the year. Aside from Stokes, they also count only Fisher as a reliable three-point shooter. Dominic Cheek is an ok outside shooter while Wayns should probably not take many more than he has. So the Wildcats would like to get open shots, preferably through the penetration of Fisher and Wayns leading to them kicking out to the perimeter. Expect the Pirates to play zone a little more than they did in the Rutgers game to try and shut those lanes down.
Offensively, the Pirates may be able to ride the momentum for a little bit at the start of the game. Once the Wildcats start competing, they should attack Villanova down low in an effort to keep Pena and Yarou off the floor as much as possible. Sutton and Armwood are long, but not on the skilled side, and certainly less so than Pena and Yarou. Trying to attack 'Nova's guards could be potentially damaging to the Pirates' chances because they are all quick and driving past them won't work as well as it did against Rutgers.
PIRATES WILL WIN IF:
- They don't commit dumb fouls
Villanova is the best free throw shooting team in the Big East at just over 77% on the year. Now, there are some fouls that you have to commit, and then there are dumb fouls. I won't complain if the Pirates commit the necessary fouls and get up to 7 that way, but dumb fouls that do nothing but increase your foul total won't help in the least.
- Eniel Polynice takes care of the ball
Because of the dismissals of Lawrence and Jackson, the Pirates are a bit short on ballhandlers. Enter Polynice, who played very well on Saturday in the win over Rutgers. He did turn the ball over three times in that game, though, and Villanova's guards will make the Pirates pay for turnovers by their point guards better than Rutgers ended up doing. I have enough faith in Jordan Theodore, but Polynice is (as he will likely continue to be all year) the X-Factor.
- Jeff Robinson steps up
I mention Robinson because the Wildcats have no one to really match up with him. Robinson should use his face-up ability to try and exploit the slower Pena and Yarou. His midrange jumper should open up more lanes for him if he is able to hit it early as well.
WILDCATS WILL WIN IF:
- The guards hit their jump shots
As mentioned above, Villanova's big 3 guards don't shoot too well. The Pirates will likely give Fisher and Wayns space while crowding up on Stokes. If they make jumpers, it will make them very tough to stop.
- They handle the early emotion
The first 5 minutes, if both teams show up, will probably go to Seton Hall because they are the ones coming off the win, and they are playing at home. It happened with Rutgers on Saturday, and I think it will happen again on Tuesday. How the Wildcats can bounce back from that (and their two consecutive losses) will determine this game.
- Dominic Cheek plays well
Cheek is a Jersey City native (and St. Anthony's grad), so he will be pumped up playing in the Rock for the first time. He also isn't a star player for Jay Wright (yet), so if they get good production from Cheek, it will greatly help their chances. I don't see the other bench players as extremely dangerous, so Cheek's game may tip the scale.