MBB Preview: Wildcats hope win is in ‘Cards’ against Louisville

Tim Richer

‘Nova’s tourney hopes

The bad news: Villanova’s 66-63 loss on Saturday to Notre Dame is a big blow to the Wildcats’ postseason chances. It is unlikely at this point that the Irish will miss the NCAA tourney, and two wins over a tourney team always provide a good argument for a tournament hopeful.

Losing to No. 7 Pitt at the Wachovia Center looks to be another squandered opportunity for the Wildcats. Despite leading for most of the game, ‘Nova gave up another opportunity to secure a big-time win on its resumé.

The good news: of the Wildcats’ nine remaining games, six are at home. The Wildcats have three more games at the Wachovia Center and three at the Pavilion.

The Big East is in a down year, with perennial powers like UConn and Syracuse struggling. Added to that, the resurgence of conferences like the Big 10 and Pac-10 will make it difficult for the Big East to include eight teams, as it did in 2006.

At this point, it appears that Pitt, Marquette and Notre Dame are locks to make the tourney, given their strong conference play and non-conference victories. ‘Nova is in a bubble group that includes West Virginia, Louisville, Georgetown, Syracuse and Providence.

Fortunately for the ‘Cats, they hold a strong RPI and strength of schedule compared to their bubble foes, a factor that may be favorable come March.

Sumpter playing injured

After sitting out the Texas game because of a bone bruise, Curtis Sumpter has come back to play in the last three games in a reserve role. His minutes have steadily increased in each game, a positive sign for the Wildcats.

Even though he has progressed, the injury to Sumpter is still evident. Sumpter failed to convert on a break-away layup in the second half against Notre Dame when he was clearly slowed by his right leg.

Despite the injury, the ‘Nova star forward was still a dominating factor in the game against Pitt, coming off the bench and leading the ‘Cats with 21 points and nine rebounds.

Louisville at the Wach’

Villanova will be going for its second victory this season at the Wachovia Center when they take on the Louisville Cardinals on Saturday. ‘Nova is looking to go over .500 at the Wach’ after losing there against Pitt on Monday night.

The Cardinals (15-6, 5-2 Big East) come into this game red hot in conference play, featuring one of the best records in the Big East. After a rocky start that included losses against Atlantic 10 opponents Dayton and UMass, Louisville has pulled it together to win 10 of its last 12.

This Louisville team features an athletic roster that posts a strong defensive game. In their five Big East wins, the Cardinals have held their opponents to average only 59.2 points per game. They are anchored down low by their gritty center and leader, David Padgett.

As Villanova has proved against Frank Young of West Virginia, Colin Falls of Notre Dame and Levance Fields of Pitt, the ‘Cats are still susceptible to good 3-point shooting. Unfortunately for the ‘Cats, Louisville features two sharp-shooting scorers, Edgar Sosa and Terrance Williams. Williams will probably be the toughest defensive assignment for the Wildcats because of his scoring versatility.

For the Wildcats and Cardinals, this game will be a bracket-buster since both teams are on the cusp of a tourney bid. Since the teams feature similar records, the winner of this game will have the inside track to the tournament.

Holy War revisited

In their last non-conference game of the regular season, the Wildcats host St. Joseph’s for ESPN’s “Rivalry Week.” For the second consecutive year, Villanova is going for the Big 5 sweep, having already beaten Penn, La Salle and Temple.

The Hawks (12-8, 4-3 A-10) are in a down year that has included a 4-6 record off their campus and a recent stretch in which they have lost three out of their last five games. Their biggest non-conference victories have come against St. Mary’s of the WCC and Bucknell of the Patriot League. For St. Joe’s, a trip to the Pavilion will be a tough task.

St. Joseph’s is led by 6-foot-9-inch sophomore Ahmad Nivins, who is the Hawks’ leading scorer, averaging over 17 points per game.

Inexperience will play a role in this game, as the Hawks feature an unusually young rotation. Of their seven regulars, only juniors Pat Calathes and Rob Ferguson are upperclassmen. Calathes, in particular, has been surging as of late, averaging over 19 points a game in his last five games. Calathes figures to be the toughest matchup for the Wildcats with his 6-foot-10-inch frame and ability to play on the outside or inside. Expect Shane Clark, who was praised for his defense against Kevin Durant, to be guarding the Hawks’ swingman.

Despite the obvious mismatch, Big 5 games are never easy. This season has featured three tough games for the ‘Cats, including away games at Penn and La Salle during which ‘Nova was losing at points in the second half. The home court should be a welcomed advantage for the Wildcats who need to win this game against one of the weaker opponents remaining on the schedule.