MBB PREVIEW: ‘Cats try to keep pace as Big East race shifts gears

Tim Richer

Big East Tightens Up

Last Saturday marked a big day for some of the NCAA tournament hopefuls hailing from the Big East. With a victory over No. 2-ranked UCLA, West Virginia punched its ticket for the tourney. The one knock on the Mountaineers’ resumé heading into the game was the lack of a quality “big-time” win.

Georgetown also appeared to secure a tournament berth with its dominant 18-point victory over Marquette. Barring a collapse by the Hoyas or Mountaineers, both teams will advance with ease. Each team figures to need only a few more victories over lighter opponents to get a berth.

Saturday’s developments will deeply affect Villanova’s chances at the NCAA tourney. Only six or seven teams from the Big East are predicted to enter the promised land. In addition to the two teams above, Pittsburgh, Marquette and Notre Dame appear to be locks, leaving just one or two spots for the “bubble-teams” of the conference.

The bubble-teams at this time include Villanova, Syracuse, Louisville and Providence. Fortunately for the Wildcats, they appear to have a leg up on the competing schools. Villanova has played one of the toughest schedules in the country, a huge factor the selection committee takes into account.

‘Cats go for sweep of Hoyas

Villanova is going for the season sweep of Georgetown this Saturday, when the team takes on the Hoyas at the Wachovia Center. In its first matchup, ‘Nova pulled out a gritty 56-52 win at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.

The Hoyas enter this game as one of the hottest teams in the country. They have been recently placed back into the national rankings after being absent from the polls since November.

Georgetown is currently riding an eight-game winning streak heading into the Wach’. Even more imposing is its margin of victory in that span; the Hoyas have defeated their opponents by an average of over 16 points per game.

The key to stopping the Hoyas will be containing their 7-foot-2-inch center Roy Hibbert. In the first meeting between Georgetown and ‘Nova, the Wildcats held Hibbert to just two points and zero field goals attempted.

Hibbert has been on a tear recently, averaging 19.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and two blocks in his last five games. Expect to see Will Sheridan and little-used freshman center Casiem Drummond help stop the Hoyas’ big man.

Georgetown’s other star is forward Jeff Green. Green, standing at 6-foot-9, has the ability to play on the low-post and come out and shoot the 3. He is second on the team in scoring with over 13 points per game. He is also hot of late, averaging 19.2 points per game in his last five contests. Expect Shane Clark, who is of comparable size and athletic ability, to match up on the Hoyas’ leading scorer.

In addition to its dominant big men, Georgetown also features two very capable starting guards. Jonathan Wallace and Jessie Sapp make up the backcourt for the Hoyas, averaging over 20 combined points per game. For ‘Nova to win this game, Mike Nardi and Scottie Reynolds need to stop Wallace and Sapp.

A second win over this tourney-bound team will definitely catapult Villanova’s chances of getting into the tournament.

Ranked opponent on the road

The Wildcats travel to Marquette on Monday to take on the No. 12 Golden Eagles. The game is unquestionably Villanova’s toughest road opponent this season; the Eagles stand at 16-2 at home in the Bradley Center.

Marquette is led by a trio of sophomore guards that have been dominant in the Big East. Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews have combined to average over 42 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists per game. The trio also combines to average over six steals per game; they look to run in the open court as a result.

While the focus of its offense is its outstanding guard-play, Marquette does have bigmen who are capable of playing on the inside and making an impact. Forwards Ousmane Barro and Dan Fitzgerald provide strong rebounding and defense for the Eagles.

The key to stopping the Golden Eagles is slowing down their fast- paced game by playing a strong half-court offense and pounding the ball inside. The Wildcats will surely look to post up Curtis Sumpter and Dante Cunningham against Marquette’s front line.

An upset at the Bradley Center would add yet another victory over a ranked opponent and a great road win to Villanova’s resumé, that making this game all the more important for ‘Nova Nation.

Automatic at the line

Part of being a successful team is taking advantage of opportunities that arise. Villanova has done just that from the free-throw line, ranked as one of the top teams in the country with its free-throw percentage. The Wildcats are currently ranked fourth in the country and first in the Big East, shooting 77 percent (404 for 522) from the charity stripe.

‘Nova’s recent nine-point win over Seton Hall was fueled by 83 percent free-throw shooting.

Three Wildcat starters are currently shooting at over 80 percent for the season.