MBB PREVIEW: Wildcats look to carry momentum up Turnpike

Tim Richer

Future ‘Cats engage in shootout

Villanova’s two biggest signees in the class of ’11 played each other last Tuesday night, as Corey Stokes of St. Benedict’s High School took on Corey Fisher of St. Patrick’s High School at Essex County Community College in New Jersey.

Fisher dominated the game as he led St. Pat’s with 24 points, six assists and two steals in its 66-60 victory over St. Benedict’s, which was the No. 1 high school team in the country heading into the game. Stokes held his own for St. Benedict’s, scoring 19 points in the losing effort.

Both Fisher and Stokes figure to compete for a starting job next year in the Wildcats’ rotation. With three starters graduating (Nardi, Sheridan and Sumpter), there will be open slots to fill. Fisher is a point guard standing at 6-foot-1, while Stokes is more of a swingman at 6-foot-5.

Big minutes for Reggie

Reggie Redding, the freshman out of St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia, is starting to play a big role for Villanova. He has emerged as the first guard off the bench to relieve Mike Nardi and Scottie Reynolds.

To start the season, Redding was seeing very little playing time. In the ‘Cats first 17 games of the season, the freshman reached double-digits in only three contests. Redding was not playing the toughest opponents; his time came against Northwood, College of Charleston and Stony Brook.

Things have changed as he has played significant minutes in ‘Nova’s last six games against tough opponents like Providence, Notre Dame (twice), Texas, Louisville and St. Joseph’s. Redding has averaged over 22 minutes per game in that span, good for seventh on the team.

Redding’s best game this season came against Louisville, during which he racked up seven points and six rebounds. He has also added much-needed toughness and defense to the squad, averaging about three rebounds and two steals per game in that span.

Trip up the turnpike

After three straight home games, the Wildcats will travel up to New Jersey to play the struggling Seton Hall Pirates in the Continental Airlines Arena on Saturday.

With a win, Villanova will improve its conference record to 5-5, which would place it in the top half of the Big East standings for the first time all year. As for the Pirates (12-10, 3-6 Big East), they need a victory to help make the conference tournament in March. They currently stand in 13th place in the conference – if the season ended today, the Pirates would not be traveling to Madison Square Garden for the Big East tourney.

The matchup of this game will unquestionably be between two of the best freshman guards in the Big East: Eugene Harvey and Reynolds. Harvey has anchored the Pirates all season, scoring in double-figures in 19 of their 21 games, averaging 16 points per game. Both guards love to drive to the hole early and often, so expect one of the two to end up in early foul trouble.

Seton Hall’s offense is very guard-oriented. All five of their leading scorers hail from the outside, including leading scorer Brian Laing, a 6-foot-5-inch swingman.

The Pirates have a weak inside game. Their strongest interior player is center John Garcia, who has missed most of the season due to a knee injury. Seton Hall’s only consistent minutes on the inside have come from forward Stan Gaines, who has averaged over six points and four rebounds a game during the Pirates 22 games. Expect Curtis Sumpter, Dante Cunningham and Will Sheridan to expose the Hall’s lack of height.

This game is one of three remaining road games for the Wildcats remaining; the other two are against Connecticut and Marquette. Stealing this game is crucial for ‘Nova, as the team faces much tougher opponents later in the year.

BE play returns to campus

Villanova welcomes the Cincinnati Bearcats as ‘Nova plays their first conference game in almost a month at the Pavilion. The last Big East showdown on campus was the 15-point victory over Notre Dame.

Villanova has held a strong home court advantage this season at the Pavilion, wining five of their seven games. The only losses have come to Drexel and DePaul.

This matchup appears to be very lopsided as the Bearcats currently sit in the basement of the Big East, on the verge of being eliminated from competing in the conference tournament in March. Their lone conference win this season came against West Virginia at home.

Cincinnati’s main problem has been its lack of a viable first scoring option. The Bearcats two leading scorers, junior forward John Williamson and freshman guard Deonta Vaughn, have averaged just over 13 points per game each. Williamson is Cincy’s main inside presence, also averaging over seven rebounds per game.

The key for ‘Nova in this game will be feeding the ball inside to Cunningham. The Bearcats have shown they are susceptible to inside play, recently giving up 18 points to David Padgett of Louisville and 26 points to Roy Hibbert of Georgetown in losses. If Villanova can take advantage of the inside game, it will surely have a leg up.

For the Wildcats, this game will be the easiest one thrown at them on their Big East schedule, so they cannot afford to squander this opportunity if they want a favorable seed in the Big East tournament.