MBB Preview: ‘Cats begin Big 5 play vs. new-look Quakers

Tim Richer

The Wildcats, standing at 4-1 and ranked No. 21 in the Coaches Poll, return to campus after their second-place finish in the 2007 Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla. for the opening of Big 5 play. Coming off their trip to Disney, the ‘Cats continue to see the development of young stars as they resume their out-of-conference schedule.

Can’t Beat This Drum

After several seasons without a serious low-post threat, it looks like Jay Wright might have found his man. Sophomore Casiem Drummond has started the first five games of the season, and has flourished in his new role as ‘Nova’s man in the middle.

Averaging eight points per game, the center from New Jersey has tallied double-figures in rebounding in three of the Wildcats’ five contests. Drummond’s biggest outburst came in the final of the Classic against North Carolina State, when he had a staggering 17 rebounds – a total greater than any output from a Wildcat last season. In addition, the frame of the ‘Cats 6-foot-10-inch big man seems unbearable for opposing teams to handle.

Abundance of Point Guards

The Old Spice Classic has raised some questions as to who should handle the duties of point guard. It appears that sophomore Scottie Reynolds, leading the team with 16.2 points per game, has stepped aside to the shooting guard position, allowing freshmen Corey Fisher and Malcolm Grant take over the majority of the ball-handling duties.

In his limited minutes, Grant has provided a spark to the Wildcats’ lineup. After opening the season with a strong 16-point showing against Stony Brook, the Brooklyn native cooled off until the second round of the Classic. In just 13 minutes, Grant put up 13 points in ‘Nova’s victory over George Mason, including three clutch 3-pointers late in the first half to help hold off a Patriots surge.

Fisher has also excelled in his time handling the point guard position. After seeing limited action before the tournament, the Bronx native emerged in Orlando, averaging over 15 points per game in the three contests. Fisher’s greatest contribution occurred in the final game; he put up 21 points as the primary ball-handler and made many spectacular plays that wowed the crowd.

While this seems like a good problem for Wright to have, it should be interesting to see how he distributes minutes among his three stud ball-handlers. Expect to see a small lineup with Reynolds, Grant and Fisher on the court at the same time, since all three look to be too explosive to keep on the bench.

Beginning of Big 5

The ‘Cats open up their Big 5 season this Saturday at the Pavilion against the Pennsylvania Quakers. Coming off back-to-back sweeps of the Philadelphia series Villanova is favored to defend its title. UPenn, which had been a strong contender in recent years, is in the midst of a rebuilding year after the graduation of all-Ivy performers Mark Zoller and Ibrahim Jabber.

Last year’s game between the Wildcats and Quakers was a tightly contested matchup at the Palestra in Philadelphia. UPenn, which had been trailing for most of the game, caught up to ‘Nova late in the second half. However, the heroics of graduated-seniors Mike Nardi and Curtis Sumpter fueled the Wildcats to a 99-89 road victory.

The ’07 version of the city rivalry features many new faces, as both teams enter the game with inexperienced rosters. Three of the Ivy power’s top five scorers are freshmen. In charge of the young Quakers will be senior guard Brian Grandieri, who leads the team with 15.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per contest. Grandieri excels at taking the ball to the basket and should challenge the Wildcats struggling help-defense.

Perhaps the biggest matchup problem for Villanova will be 6-foot-6-inch freshman guard Tyler Bernadini. The sharpshooting rookie is averaging over 10 points per game for the Quakers in just his first six contests. Should the Wildcats put a small lineup on the court, Bernadini could be a tough player to guard because of his height and versatility.

The catalyst for the UPenn offense is freshman point guard Harrison Gaines. Gaines, a slick passer, has put up over five assists per game thus far – a total more than any Villanova player.

Drummond and junior forward Dante Cunningham are expected to dominate the UPenn frontcourt. Freshman forward Jack Eggleston and sophomore forward Justin Reilly are the Quakers two biggest interior threats, standing at 6-foot-8-inches a piece. Eggleston is the team’s best inside scorer, averaging almost nine points per game.

The Quakers remain unproven as they feature a 2-4 record as of Nov. 27. The team has dropped its two toughest games at home to Drexel and Virginia. Their two victories have come against Navy, an average Patriot League team, and The Citadel, a team typically at the bottom of the Southern Conference.


Villanova should win this home game handily. The only concern for Wildcat fans should be a lag-coming off the crushing last-second defeat at the hands of North Carolina State. With the six day layoff, Coach Wright probably will not allow this to happen.

UPenn does not have the athleticism, depth or offense to compete with the ‘Cats. The Quakers only chance to steal a victory will occur if ‘Nova allows the UPenn guards to catch fire from the outside – a scenario that still probably will not lead the Ivy Leaguers to victory.

Villanova 87, Pennsylvania 64.