MBB PREV: ‘Cats prepare to face a few familiar foes

Stephen Buszka

After holding off Navy for a win in the first home game of the season, the men’s basketball team is ready to venture out on the road and battle some familiar faces.

Up to the plate

Today Villanova travels to Long Island to face Stony Brook University. The 3-3 Seawolves should not put up too much of a fight against the Wildcats this year. In last year’s game, Stony Brook shot a measly 32 percent from the field with an abysmal 1-of-11 shooting night from the charity stripe – that’s 9.1 percent. The ‘Cats easily outplayed Stony Brook, and the final score of 78-35 proved it. (In fact, Villanova could have missed every shot in the second half and still won the game. They scored 37 points in the first half.)

Even though the season is young, both teams have faced Navy. The Wildcats beat Navy, and Navy beat the Seawolves. Simple deduction concludes that Villanova should beat Stony Brook.

The ‘Cats will need to focus on stopping junior Mitchell Beauford and senior Ricky Lucas who average 19.2 and 18.8 points per game, respectively. If the Wildcats can hold the two scorers at bay, then the team should be able to wrap up the game midway through the second half, if not earlier. The team must be careful to remember to take the game seriously, however.

On deck

Villanova has earned three straight victories over the University of Pennsylvania and will look for a fourth this Saturday. History suggests that the game will end well for the Wildcats. Throughout the 51 years of the Big 5, Villanova has faced Penn 46 times and amassed a record of 33-13.

The 4-1 ‘Cats should have the edge over the Quakers, although the Quakers did have a respectable outing against No. 17 Syracuse and would have fared better had they been able to improve upon a weak shooting night. Penn also represented the Ivy League in the NCAA tournament last year. This game will not be a cakewalk.

The game is a Big 5 matchup being played at the Palestra, a 9,000-seat arena that will be packed to the brim with those oh-so-crazy Philadelphia college sports fans. These ingredients could be a recipe for disaster for some of the younger Villanova players who may have not played in such an intense atmosphere. Though game will definitely help them grow accustomed to playing in front of larger, raucous crowds.

In the hole

Oklahoma will be the Wildcats’ third road game in a week. The Wednesday night game will be televised on ESPN and features the Sooners seeking revenge for last year’s 11-point loss to the Wildcats. Next to the Penn game, this may be the hardest for the young team. The Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla. holds approximately 12,000 people. That many people can make a lot of noise, especially when they are all rooting against you. The Lloyd Noble Center is arguably the toughest place to play in the nation. Want proof? Oklahoma has won 48 straight home games against non-conference opponents.

Regardless of the outcome, this will be a great way to thicken the skin of some of the younger members of the team and prepare them for the more intense games that await them. It is tough games in tough locations that build the character and unity of a team.

Aside from the fan support, the 3-2 Sooners have a few more things going for them, one of which is 6-foot-11-inch junior Longar Longar. The third-year player has seen his playing time nearly quadruple and, as a result, has increased his scoring to 14.2 ppg and rebounding to 7.2 rpg. He has scored double-digit figures in every game except the Sooners’ loss to Memphis and has done a respectable job of pulling down boards, especially off the offensive glass. If the Wildcats can minimize his role then they will find themselves in an interesting situation – one in which they are not at a size disadvantage. The ‘Cats were able to match up well against teams with bigger men and pull out victories, but without a size disadvantage, the ‘Cats don’t need to focus on stopping a big man.

Keys to victory

One of the few things the team will need to focus on is consistency. While Villanova has managed to play solid defense in the first half of games, their defensive effort after the half has been somewhat suspect. In the loss to Xavier and the close win over Navy, Villanova surrendered a combined 83 second-half points. This is significantly higher than the 49 combined points allowed in the first half of those two games. In every game so far, opposing teams have shot noticably better against the Wildcats after the break. In the second half of games, opposing teams shoot .474 from the floor compared with a .354 shooting percentage in the first half. Whether this is a matter of conditioning or concentration, Villanova needs to work on stopping this.

Another thing Villanova needs to work on is drawing fouls and getting to the line. Teams that can get to the charity stripe consistently fair better. In their four wins, the ‘Cats averaged almost 30 attempts. In their loss to Xavier, they only took seven free throws.

On the plus side, Curtis Sumpter has played impressively. He has bounced back from last year’s injury quite well.