MBB Preview: ‘Nova looks to break losing streak against Seton Hall

Michael Zipf

Defense Clawless?

Throughout Villanova’s history, the trademark of the team has been its’ tenacious and stalwart defense. After ranking among the top defensive teams in the Big East the last two seasons, the Wildcat’s lackluster defense during its current five game losing streak has plagued the team. The Wildcats have surrendered a staggering 80.6 points per game in their last five contests. In comparison, the 2006-2007 Wildcats surrendered 80 points or more in only two contests. Villanova’s opponents this year are shooting a comfortable 39.7 percent from beyond the arc. In conference play, the Wildcats rank last in 3-point field goal percentage defense with opponents shooting 40.8 percent. However, many of Villanova’s struggles on the defensive end are attributed to their youth and inexperience with only three members of Jay Wright’s 10-man rotation averaging over 15 minutes of play last season. The return of sophomore center Cassiem Drummond should elevate a Wildcat defense that lacked a true interior presence in his absence. Although the Wildcats rank among the top teams in turnovers forced and steals per game, the inability of the team to contain the dribble drive penetration has plagued the team throughout the season. In their last four matchups, point guards Mike Coburn, Kyle McAlarney, Ronald Ramon and Johnny Flynn have weaved right through the Wildcat’s porous defense torching ‘Nova for a combined 87 points.

Sink or Swim?

In their last three matchups, the Wildcats have managed to sink the Seton Hall Pirate’s ship earning three wins by an average of 11 points. However, expect this matchup to be close as Seton Hall enters the matchup on a roll, recording victories in five of their last six matchup with their lone loss to perennial Big East powerhouse Georgetown. Even in their loss to the Hoyas, the Pirates demonstrated strong resiliency and physical play that has bracketologists believing that the ‘Hall could earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament. With the Wildcats struggling defensively, expect Seton Hall to push the offensive tempo.

Sophomore guard Eugene Harvey, who finished second to Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds in the Big East Rookie of the Year voting last season, leads the Pirates’ attack. Harvey’s ability to attack the basket will present major problems for a Wildcat defense that has failed to contain elusive and quick point guards throughout the season. Joining Harvey in the backcourt are seniors Jamar Nutter and Brian Lang. Lang who leads the team in scoring and rebounding at 19.5 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game is enjoying a breakout senior season. At 6 feet 5 inches and 215 pounds, Lang provides the Pirates with a combo guard who is able to attack and finish around the basket. Expect Jay Wright to utilize a variety of defenders to contain Lang with sophomore Reggie Redding and freshman Corey Stokes handling the primary defensive responsibilities. The Pirates are blessed with another stellar freshman this year in Jeremy Hazel, who enters the matchup averaging close to 12 points per game. The Wildcats’ ability to contain the Pirates’ trio of guards, who possess deft driving abilities, will ultimately determine whether the Wildcats are able to snap their four-game losing streak within conference play.

On the offensive end, the Wildcats should capitalize on the Pirates inept 3-point defense that ranks 15th in the Big East conference. The Wildcats are shooting 35.5 percent from beyond the arc this season. Much of the Wildcats’ success this season has been predicated on their ability to hit outside shots. With the absence of Drummond, the Wildcats have lacked a true post presence, however, both Dante Cunningham and redshirt freshman Antonio Peña have emerged as solid interior options. During this matchup, the Wildcats’ interior play both offensively and defensively will determine whether the Wildcats are able to extend their winning streak over the Pirates.

Analysts have used the word inconsistent to describe Villanova’s offense. At times, the Wildcat offense has shown flashes of brilliance with potent outside shooting, deft passing and relentless rebounding. However, during some stretches of the game, the Wildcats’ offense has become stagnant with ill advised turnovers and lackluster shooting. During their 80-68 defeat against Rutgers, the Wildcats’ offense failed to record a single field goal over a 12 minute stretch in the second half. After starting their last Big East conference game against Syracuse with a torrid offensive performance shooting close to 70 percent in the game’s first 10 minutes, the Wildcats’ offense remained cold during key stretches of the second half.

Reynolds, who was plagued by foul trouble against Syracuse and only registered two field goal attempts in the first half, will need to be more assertive in this matchup against Seton Hall and avoid early foul trouble. Corey Fisher, who enjoyed one of his best games of the season against Syracuse, recording 21 points including five 3-pointers, will be an integral part of the Wildcat offense. Fisher’s ability to penetrate, create for his teammates and nail the outside jumper are aspects that the Pirates will try to negate.

A healthy Drummond will provide the Wildcats with a solid interior presence against a mediocre Seton Hall defense. Prior to his stress fracture, which sidelined him for eight weeks, Drummond led the Wildcats in rebounding with 7.1 rebounds per game. In first true action since his injury, Drummond recorded 11 points against Syracuse in only 19 minutes of action. Expect Drummond to be a force against the Pirates.

Although the Wildcats have enjoyed above a .700 winning percentage at home during the last few seasons, the Wildcats had back-to-back home defeats. Unless the offense develops more consistency and the defense shows substantial improvement, the Wildcats will continue to falter. Any hopes of earning a bid to the NCAA tournament, which are sinking quickly, will have to start with a victory over Seton Hall. Unfortunately, the Wildcats are running into a hot Seton Hall team at the wrong time of the season.

Seton Hall 81, Villanova 75