Wildcats prepare for rematch on road against Georgetown, center Monroe




Villanova handled the Hoyas once already this season, but the question is whether they can do it on the road. The No. 2 Wildcats will travel to No. 8 Georgetown on Saturday looking for a season sweep of their conference rival, along with a further boost to their already solid résumé. As the Big East teams move into the second half of their conference schedules, Villanova has emerged as the pace-setter for the rest of a highly-competitive pack that features five different teams ranked among the Top 25 in the country. The going gets even tougher from here, however: following their contest with the Hoyas at the nation’s capital, the Wildcats must travel to Morgantown to face No. 6 West Virginia on Monday.

Georgetown, meanwhile, finds itself in the midst of what appears to be a more manageable stretch. The Hoyas, fresh off a huge victory over No. 10 Duke, hosted South Florida prior to Villanova and looks forward to a two-game road trip during which they will take on Providence and Rutgers. 

When the two teams last met, Scottie Reynolds (27 points) and Villanova found themselves in complete control for the majority of the game. Georgetown made an impressive second-half run, however, coming back from a 17-point deficit to tie the game with less than five minutes to go. The Wildcats held on, but the Hoyas’ run proved one thing: sophomore forward Greg Monroe can put this team on his back and carry it to the finish.

A possible first-round draft pick in this summer’s NBA draft, Monroe ripped down 16 rebounds and poured in 29 points – both game-highs – in his team’s losing effort at the Wachovia Center. 

If the Wildcats are to be successful against the Hoyas again, Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright will need to find a way to contain the dangerous center. Expect freshman center Mouphtaou Yarou to see an increase in minutes as he and junior Antonio Peña combine to defend Monroe. 

In taking care of that priority, however, the Wildcats must also account for another dangerous weapon on the Georgetown offense: Austin Freeman. A junior guard, Freeman leads the Hoyas in scoring with 16.2 points per game and has been known to explode for even more; he contributed 22 behind Monroe’s 29 in Georgetown’s first meeting with Villanova and dropped a career-high 33 in a three-point win over Connecticut in early January. In the rapidly rotating carousel of guards that Villanova puts on the floor throughout a game, the Wildcat backcourt will need to keep track of Freeman and limit his scoring opportunities.

That deep rotation of players that Wright sends into games may have been the single most important factor in Villanova’s win earlier this season, despite Monroe’s monstrous performance. As they have on numerous occasions this year, the Wildcats simply had more fresh legs to use late in the game than did their opponent. While the Villanova bench provides Wright with depth, Coach John Thompson III’s bench at Georgetown can only be described as shallow.

The Hoyas have started the same five players – sophomore guard Jason Clark, Freeman, Monroe, junior forward Julian Vaughn and junior guard Chris Wright – in every game so far this season. All of the starters other than Clark average well over 30 minutes per game, along with double-digit scoring averages. 

Sixth man Hollis Thompson, a freshman forward, has also played in every game for the Hoyas and is the only bench player to make any significant contribution – the rest of the bench combined only contributes an average of about six points per game. 

Although their lack of depth is quite apparent, the Hoyas are used to their condition and have certainly made do. Hovering at fifth-place in the Big East with a 6-3 conference record (16-4 overall) prior to their matchup with South Florida, Georgetown is jockeying for position with college basketball’s elite as the tournament draws closer. None of Georgetown’s six major players is a senior, and depending upon Monroe’s decision to return or not, the Hoyas might be a powerhouse next season. 

The more pressing issue, however, is Saturday’s matchup, and Villanova will be faced with the pressure of repeating its success in a hostile environment. As they did last time, the Wildcats must rely on their depth to wear down the thinner Georgetown squad. 

Expect yet another tough battle, and don’t be surprised if the game goes right down to the wire.