Men’s Basketball Preview: ‘Nova returns to Pavilion for two non-conference matchups

Michael Zipf

Foul-Shooting Groove

Seven games into the ’07-’08 season, the Wildcats are shooting a pedestrian 63 percent from the foul line, which is down 15 points from last season’s national leading mark of 77.6 percent. At one point during the second half in their matchup against LSU in the Big East-SEC Invitational, the Wildcats were shooting under 50 percent from the foul line.

Villanova’s poor foul shooting was extremely costly in their lone defeat of the season against North Carolina State in the finale of the Old Spice Classic. During the game, the Wildcats shot a season-worst eight out of 18 from the foul line. However, in their last 48 minutes of play, the Wildcats have started to regain their shooting prowess from the charity stripe. Villanova has converted 37 of its last 44 attempts. Freshman Malcolm Grant’s 9-of-10 performance at the foul line was imperative to the team’s miraculous 21-point comeback against LSU.

Although the Wildcats are struggling from the foul line, history indicates that by season’s end the Wildcats should bolster their season average into the mid-to-low 70 percent range. Villanova’s two returning starters, Dante Cunningham and Scottie Reynolds, both shot over 75 percent last season. In addition, Villanova’s three incoming freshmen, Corey Fisher, Malcolm Grant and Corey Stokes, all shot over 72 percent from the foul line during their senior seasons.

Overall, look for an improved performance from the charity stripe as the Wildcats head into their Big East conference schedule, where the Wildcats shot a conference best 77.1 percent last season.

Hawks Invade Pavilion

Head Coach Jay Wright should feel confident since he holds a 10-4 career record against the Hartford Hawks. The Hawks, who play in the American East Conference, are led by 6-foot sophomore guard Joe Zeglinski who is averaging 14.5 points per game. Fellow senior guard Rich Baker provides the Hawks with a formidable outside shooter who has converted 46.9 percent of his 3-point attempts. The Wildcat defense will have to contain the dribble penetration of Zeglinski while ensuring that all of Baker’s shots are contested. Villanova’s inability to defend the 3-point shot has plagued the Wildcats; their opponents have shot 42 percent from beyond the arc while converting 78 attempts.

The Wildcats should enjoy a distinct size and height advantage. With only one player over 6-feet-7-inches, look for sophomore Casiem Drummond, who is enjoying a sensational sophomore season, to dominate the class and the paint area. In only 14 minutes of action against LSU, Drummond recorded 10 points and five rebounds. Prior to the LSU game, Drummond recorded a career-high 17 rebounds in a stellar performance against a formidable North Carolina State frontcourt. In addition, fellow sophomore forward Antonio Peña, who has recently seen his playing time substantially increase, should be able to build on his career-high 17-point performance against Temple.

As usual, the play of the Villanova guards will ultimately determine whether this game remains close or an uncontested matchup. The backcourt duo of Fisher and Reynolds provides the Wildcats with a lethal one-two combination that can break down a defense with the dribble and nail the outside jumper. On the season, Reynolds and Fisher account for nearly 35 percent of Villanova’s scoring and 49 percent of the team’s assists.

Prediction: Expect Villanova to record its fourth straight victory and improve its record to 8-1. The Wildcats’ superior athletic ability and quickness will prove too much for the Hartford team that enters the matchup with a 4-6 record in a weak American East Conference this season.

The Wildcats should be leery of a let-down performance. Hartford is a much stronger team than fellow conference opponent Stony Brook, which gave the Wildcats difficulties in the first half of their opening matchup of the season. Look for junior foward Shane Clark, who scored 17 points against Temple, to have another strong game. However, the Wildcats possess too much of a high-octane offense and tenacious defense for this matchup to be anywhere close.

Villanova 92, Hartford 62

Ivies No Match for ‘Cats

Having dismantled the defending Ivy League Champion and cross-town rival Penn, the Wildcats look to record another decisive victory over another Ivy League opponent, Columbia. Columbia heads into the matchup with a 3-6 record and is led by 6-foot-8-inch forward John Baumann, who is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder with 15.6 points and six rebounds per game. Aside from Baumann, the Lions do not have another significant scorer, and thus, much of the Wildcats’ defensive scheme will be focused on negating Baumman.

Offensively, the Wildcats should dominate Columbia, a team that lacks the athletic and defensive ability to withstand a high powered Villanova attack, which enters the matchup averaging 80 points per game. Villanova will utilize their relentless 1-2-1-1 full court press to speed up the pace of the game and force Columbia into turnover situations. By forcing the game’s tempo and having a distinct advantage on the glass, the Wildcats’ fast break should be clicking on all cylinders. Anticipate the up-tempo pace to favor Villanova as the Wildcats will look to run the Lions out of the Pavilion.

The keys to the game will again center on ‘Nova’s guard play. After suffering his worst statistical performance of the season against LSU, Reynolds rebounded nicely against Temple, recording 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting along with six rebounds and a team-high nine assists. Reynolds will have a monster game against a porous Columbia defense.

Prediction: Expect the Wildcats to a capture a sound victory quite easily. Columbia was picked prior to the start of the season to finish in the bottom half of the Ivy League Conference. Trying to compete with one of the elites of the Big East will be a monumental task that the Lions will be unable to overcome. Wildcats improve to 9-1 before they open up Big East play against DePaul.

Villanova 87, Columbia 52