MBB PREVIEW: ‘Nova needs final three to finish above .500 in Big East

Tim Richer

In Dante We Trust

Lately, the success of sophomore forward Dante Cunningham has been consistent, regardless of whether or not Villanova comes out on top.

A problem with Villanova’s offense has been its inability to get Cunningham the ball. The Wildcats have lost only one game in the 13 contests in which he has attempted more than five field goals. That one loss came at Notre Dame, when Cunningham was plagued by foul trouble.

In Villanova’s 18 wins, Cunningham has averaged over 10 points per contest. In contrast, the big man has averaged just 6.2 points per game in the Wildcats’ nine losses.

Just as perplexing as his lack of touches is Cunningham’s lack of starts since Feb. 3 against Louisville. ‘Nova could benefit from having its high-flying forward in the lineup as much as possible, since, among all the regulars in Jay Wright’s rotation, Cunningham leads the group in field-goal percentage at just under 60 percent.

Senior Night at the Pavilion

This Saturday afternoon features the last game in the Pavilion of the ’06-’07 season. The Wildcats will host the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (10-16, 3-10 Big East) as they honor their four seniors.

The Wildcats should not have any trouble getting pumped up for the game. The pre-game ceremonies will celebrate seniors Ross Condon, Mike Nardi, Will Sheridan and Curtis Sumpter. This year features a unique graduating class for ‘Nova, as Nardi, Sheridan and Sumpter have all played major minutes since the day they walked onto campus.

Rutgers’ basketball team has not been able emulate the successes of its surprise football team this season. After losing Quincy Douby, last year’s Big East scoring leader, the Scarlet Knights have looked lost on offense and on the court in general.

The Scarlet Knights are currently dead last in the Big East in field-goal percentage and scoring, averaging just over 60 points per contest. They are second to last in the Big East (out of 16 teams), and they have very little hope of making the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden.

One of the bright spots for Rutgers has been the emergence of sophomore forward JR Inman. Inman leads the team in scoring and rebounding at over 12 points and seven rebounds per game.

Perhaps Rutgers’ streakiest player and biggest matchup problem for the Wildcats will be senior swingman Marquis Webb. Webb, standing at 6-foot-5, must be a scoring threat in this game if the Knights want to compete.

For the ‘Cats, this game is a must-win since the Scarlet Knights are the weakest opponent remaining on their schedule. With no easy opponents from here on out, expect to see some playing time from guard Condon, the senior walk-on from Springfield, Va. Throughout his career at ‘Nova, Condon has been a vital practice player and a ‘Nova Nation favorite.

Last road game

The Wildcats will make their last road trip of the season Wednesday night as they travel up to Storrs, Conn., to play the Connecticut Huskies (16-10, 5-7 Big East) at the Gampel Pavilion.

UConn’s season has been a tale of two parts. It began the ’06-’07 campaign 11-0 while loading up on home games against easy opponents and ranked in the Top 10 in polls. However, from the time the Huskies hit the Big East schedule until the end of January, they tallied a 2-8 record, dropping them out of the rankings and even NCAA tournament consideration.

The struggle for the Huskies can be traced back to the loss of all five starters from last year’s team to the NBA draft. Their first four players selected went within the first 22 picks, an unprecedented achievement.

Connecticut currently features a starting lineup of all underclassmen. The Huskies do not have one dominant scorer; however they have several players who are dangerous and can take over the game.

Their frontline has the potential to be outstanding. They currently lead the Big East in rebounding margin, gaining over nine more boards than their opponents per game. Sophomore forward Jeff Adrien is an athletic and gritty player who is averaging a double-double (13 points and 10 rebounds per game) for the season.

Freshman center Hasheem Thabeet is a force in the lane for the Huskies. Thabeet, a 7-foot-3-inch monster, is among the national leaders with four blocks per game. He also adds over six rebounds per contest in the Huskies frontcourt. For ‘Nova to be successful against UConn, they must look to neutralize the Huskies’ two big men.

Connecticut also features two streaky guards. Sophomore point guard A.J. Price is the catalyst for the team, averaging almost four assists per game. Freshman Jerome Dyson provides most of the backcourt scoring, averaging 13 points per contest. Dyson has been hot lately, racking up more than 17 points per game during the month of February. The guard was named last week’s Big East Freshman of the Week for his spectacular play.

Despite their recent poor performance, Hall of Fame Coach Jim Calhoun always has his Huskies ready to play. Villanova cannot take this game for granted, since losing would be devastating. A loss to a team as poor as Connecticut would severely hurt ‘Nova’s tourney chances.