MBB PREV: New year ushers in tough competition for Wildcats

Stephen Buszka

While most of the Villanova student body will be heading home for break to spend the holiday season with their family and friends, the men’s basketball team will be sinking its teeth into the heart of its schedule. Led by Jay Wright, the team will look to ease out of 2006 with some solid non-conference and Big Five wins, for once the ball drops in Times Square, the Wildcats’ season takes on a whole new attitude. Starting on Jan. 3, the ‘Cats will begin their Big East play with a gauntlet of matchups. Two of these games will be played on the road against Georgetown and Syracuse.

Farewell to ’06

The 5-2 Drexel Dragons will look to make a statement against the best of the Big Five as they roll into the Pavilion this Saturday. The Dragons are, thus far, 1-1 against Big Five teams with a win over Saint Joseph’s and a loss to Penn. Drexel doesn’t have a main scoring threat; instead, the scoring load falls upon senior guard Bashir Mason and junior forward Frank Elegar, who both average almost 13 points per game. Drexel’s scoring has been up and down all season, reaching a high of 89 and a low of 57, while Villanova has consistently put up solid offensive numbers. If they can keep one Drexel player from shouldering the scoring load and carrying the Dragons, the Wildcats should be in good shape.

After a week and a half off for finals, the Wildcats will host the Rider University Broncs on Dec. 20. Currently 5-2, the Broncs have rested on the shoulders of 6-foot-10-inch junior forward Jason Thompson, who is currently averaging a double-double for Rider. He has played well nearly every game for the Broncs, and his 21 ppg and 10.4 rpg averages show it. In the two games where he has been held to 12 points or less, the Broncs are 1-1, with the victory coming by a mere point.

The LaSalle Explorers are having a good season with a current record of 4-1. Their opponents, however, have not been of the highest quality. It seems that ‘Nova and Penn are the best of the Big Five, but LaSalle very well may be No. 3. That being said, Temple may be the opposite. At 3-2, the Owls are not sending shivers down anyone’s spines. However, after dropping two straight games to open their season, they did knock off Rutgers. Then again, without Quincy Douby, the Scarlet Knights might as well be playing intramural basketball as their only win came against St. Thomas Aquinas … who?

‘Should old acquaintances

be forgot …’

In the first week of the new year, the Wildcats will face off against West Virginia and DePaul. Both of these games are compelling – the Mountaineers are (as of press time) 5-1, and the Blue Demons are coming off a huge win against then-No. 5 Kansas – but they aren’t nearly as compelling as the game at Georgetown. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the West Virginia and DePaul games will be to avoid looking ahead to the next two games.

On Jan. 8 the Wildcats will travel to Washington, D.C., to face the Georgetown Hoyas at the Verizon Center. This rivalry game may be as heated as ever, since it will feature two skilled big men – Curtis Sumpter and Roy Hibbert. Some people feel that Hibbert has not played up to the lofty preseason expectations, and while that may be true, he is still 7-foot-2-inches tall and 278 pounds and still capable of taking over a game. In last year’s matchup, he dropped 20 points and picked up 12 rebounds against the Wildcats in a loss. While he has yet to meet those numbers this year, he is certainly capable of doing so and will come into the Jan. 8 game as fired up as ever. In the Hoyas’ three losses, they have had trouble getting themselves to the free-throw line. In those losses, the Hoyas have attempted 13 fewer free throws than their opponents. Villanova will be in good shape if they can keep Georgetown from getting to the line and draw fouls for themselves.

Following the Georgetown game, the Wildcats will travel to Syracuse on Jan. 13 for another difficult game, this time at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse has raised a lot of eyebrows thus far this season. While having somewhat lofty preseason expectations, critics were still worried about the team’s ability to win without the gutsy Gerry McNamara. Sophomore guard Eric Devendorf has allowed Orange fans to forget about McNamara, since he has been playing very well. Junior forward Demetris Nichols is also doing his fair share of the work by leading the team in scoring. Even freshman Paul Harris has impressive with 12.5 ppg and 7.1 rpg. The Orange has a solid core of young players and, before losing to the Wichita State Shockers last Saturday, was as hot as any team in the nation. Even in that loss, the team showed great resilience by scoring 36 points in the second half to cut a 14-point halftime deficit to tie the game with 1:45 left on the clock. If Villanova is fortunate enough to build a halftime lead against the Orange, the ‘Cats will have to be careful in the second half and control the pace of the game to protect against a second-half comeback – something the ‘Cats have had trouble doing all year. Against Penn the ‘Cats once again had trouble keeping opponents from scoring after the break, allowing 49 points to the Quakers. To give them the benefit of the doubt, there was an inordinate number of fouls called in that second half – 19 to be exact – which allowed Penn to score 21 extra points off free throws. However, without spectacular 21-of-23 free-throw shooting , Villanova could have lost that game.