No. 5 ‘Nova opens up regular season with matchup against Fairleigh Dickinson


Following the men’s basketball team’s run to the Final Four of the 2009 NCAA tournament, preseason expectations for them have never been higher. Tomorrow, the Wildcats will finally embark on their mission to fulfill them.

The Knights of Fairleigh Dickinson University will arrive at Villanova to provide the first challenge of the team’s 2009-’10 campaign – one the Wildcats hope will culminate in another exhilarating NCAA tournament run. The game, which tips off at 7 p.m., will be the first regular season matchup for each team, both of whom were victorious in preseason exhibition games.

FDU defeated Molloy College, 80-61, last Saturday on its home court. The game was the Knights’ first action under Interim Head Coach Greg Vetrone. He took over this position during the summer following the firing of Tom Green, who had held the job for 26 seasons.

Villanova, meanwhile, rode a 27-point halftime lead to a full dismantling of Kutztown at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia. The Wildcats shot 60 percent from the field in their 110-84 victory, and five different players scored in double figures.

Tomorrow’s season opener at the Pavilion will feature a matchup of two high-scoring senior guards, which will provide an intriguing storyline aside from the excitement of kicking off a fresh year of basketball. Scottie Reynolds, who returned to Villanova despite flirting with the NBA draft in the off-season, will be vital to the Wildcats’ success this season in terms of both scoring and leadership. The Knights will rely similarly on the play of Sean Baptiste, who led the team in scoring last season. Reynolds and Baptiste were both the highest scorers in their teams’ preseason victories, netting 27 and 21 points, respectively.

Concerning play in the paint, FDU relies on a pair of 6-foot-8-inch forwards: junior Kamil Svrdlik, from the Czech Republic, and senior Alvin Mofunanya, who debuted for the Knights last season after transferring from St. Joseph’s. They will match up against Antonio Peña, who enters his third season of play for the Wildcats, and freshman Mouphtaou Yarou, a 6-foot-10-inch forward from Benin, who notched a solid eight points and six rebounds as a starter against Kutztown.

While each of these players, with the exception of Yarou, tallied double digits in their preseason efforts, expecttheir defensive play and rebounding to be their most important contributions to tomorrow’s contest.

Both FDU and Villanova rely heavily on their guards for offensive production, so look for the big men to influence the game more in their control of the boards than in their scoring.

Despite featuring several new faces on their squad this season, the Wildcats seem to have found a complementary balance in their combination of experienced players and young talent. Reynolds, Peña and junior guards Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher all return to Villanova having spent a great amount of time on the court together last season. Yarou and his fellow freshmen Dominic Cheek, Maalik Wayns and Isaiah Armwood all saw action against Kutztown and will likely get a chance to contribute against FDU as well.

Another new face that the Knights will have to account for is that of Taylor King. After sitting out last season in accordance with NCAA regulations following his transfer from Duke, King made his debut against Kutztown by draining all four of his 3-point attempts, finishing with 17 points. His perimeter accuracy, combined with that of Reynolds and Stokes, provides the Wildcats with a kind of shooting threat that the FDU guards are likely to find extremely difficult to defend.

The excitement generated by last season’s Final Four appearance certainly seems to have stayed strong at Villanova throughout the off-season, and the energy in the Pavilion tomorrow night will provide the Wildcats with a huge advantage.

With so many players returning from last year, the team will be hungry for a fast start to another successful season as they follow Head Coach Jay Wright into his eighth year on the job. FDU, meanwhile, will face a hostile crowd and disappointing preseason rankings – they are placed eighth among the 12 teams in the Northeast Conference (NEC).

When the explosive scoring ability of Villanova’s offense combines with the incendiary atmosphere of the Pavilion on opening night, it is unlikely that the Knights will be able to keep the game close for long.