MBB Preview: ‘Nova ready to represent Big East vs. LSU tonight

Tim Richer

Who Takes the Three?

After six games, the Wildcats have established themselves as a dangerous 3-point shooting team, shooting 37 percent as a group.

Among their seven players with over 10 attempts from behind the arc, freshman guard Malcolm Grant leads the squad by shooting 53 percent, and six of those seven have shot 33 percent or better.

Ironically, the ‘Cats’ most heralded 3-point shooter, freshman swingman and All-American Corey Stokes, has yet to find his stroke. Stokes has converted just two out his 17 collegiate attempts from downtown, just 12 percent. The gunner showed off his shooting prowess in Villanova’s four-game Canadian exhibition series in September by making 13 of 27 3s, good for 48 percent.

Tigers come to Philly

Tonight marks the first annual Big East/SEC Invitational, as the Wildcats welcome Louisiana State University to the Wachovia Center in the finale of an ESPN-sponsored double-header, which features the South Carolina Gamecocks and Providence Friars in the opener. The matchup will be a “neutral” game for Villanova, who is expected to have the support of most of the fans in attendance.

LSU enters the game with a lot to prove, playing without its two best players from last season. Glen “Big Baby” Davis left the school to enter the 2007 NBA Draft after his junior season, while junior forward Tasmin Mitchell suffered a stress fracture in his right ankle just three games into the current season, leaving the Tigers without their star and go-to scorer.

Without Mitchell in the lineup, the Tigers depend on the scoring of sharp-shooting junior guard Marcus Thorton. Thorton, a junior college transfer, has excelled in his first season in Baton Rouge, leading LSU in scoring at 20 points per game. Thorton will not be easy to contain since he is capable of playing close to the basket as well as on the outside.

The ‘Cats will have to find a way to guard the height of LSU, which relies on 6-foot-10-inch freshman forward Anthony Randolph to anchor the inside. Randolph has been a pleasant surprise for the Tigers early in the season; he leads the team with over eight rebounds per contest, while adding over 15 points per game.

Alongside Randolph will be junior center Chris Johnson, who stands at 6 feet 11 inches. Johnson is known as more of a finesse player than Randolph and has the ability to light up the scoreboard with his strong shooting. He currently averages 12.9 points per game.

The key for Villanova will be the defense of junior forward Dante Cunningham and sophomore center Casiem Drummond in containing Randolph and Johnson. The Wildcats will also need to match up on the perimeter with a duo of athletic LSU junior guards, Terry Martin and Garrett Temple.

The Tigers enter Philadelphia at 5-2, with two close losses at Oklahoma State and Arizona State. LSU’s most impressive victory has been a home blowout of Southern from the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

Prediction: What the Wildcats lack in athleticism and height, they make up in perimeter shooting and speed. Sophomore guard Scottie Reynolds and freshman guard Corey Fisher will give the boys from the Bayou all they can handle, using the friendly confines of the Wachovia Center to pick up a win.

Villanova 72, LSU 65.

Record on the Line

The Wildcats will be going for Big 5 history on Sunday night when ‘Nova attempts to win its 13th straight Philly-series matchup at Temple. Villanova is currently tied for the record with University of Pennsylvania, who won 12 straight rivalry games from 1972 to 1975.

In order to get the record, Villanova will have to defeat a star-oriented Owl squad at the Liacouras Center. Temple is fueled by the performances of its two First Team All-Big 5 guards, junior Dionte Christmas and senior Mark Tyndale.

Christmas leads the Owls in scoring at over 20 points per game, in addition to five rebounds and almost three assists per contest. A lethal shooter, Christmas will be sure to get his fair share of shots off. The junior has double-figures in shot attempts in 34 of his last 37 collegiate games, dating back to last season.

Christmas’ partner in crime, Tyndale, is also a strong scorer, averaging almost 16 points per game in addition to almost six rebounds and two assists per game. The senior guard, standing at 6 feet 5 inches with a big frame, is a high percentage shooter who can take the ball strong to the inside. Tyndale has been a strong player from day one at Temple; he has averaged over 14 points in 91 career games.

Temple’s strongest post presence is 6-foot-9-inch freshman forward Lavoy Allen. Allen, a standout star from Pennsbury High School near Philadelphia, has had a strong start to his collegiate career with almost nine points and six rebounds per contest in his first seven games. Allen is the key to an Owl offense that has little else to offer on the interior.

Villanova will be dominant on the inside for one of the few times this year; Cunningham, Drummond, red-shirt freshman Antonio Peña and junior forward Shane Clark all provide matchup problems for Temple.

The Owls began the season with three straight losses, including a blowout at the hands of No. 7 Tennessee and a tight matchup at Providence. Since then, the South Philly Squad has turned things around to win three of its last four against mid-major opponents.

Prediction: Expect the ‘Cats and Coach Wright to roll to their 13th straight Big 5 victory as they have too much offensive firepower for Christmas and Tyndale to handle. If the Owls get some strong surprise efforts, this could be close; however, the balance of ‘Nova’s attack should be too much for Temple to contain on its own court.

Villanova 85, Temple 70.