Kicking off the ’06-’07 season with fun in the sun

Stephen Buszka

Villanova Wildcats


Northwood University Seahawks

Saturday, 7 p.m.

Countess de Hoernle Student Life Center

Saturday’s opening game will look to answer many questions on the Wildcat fans’ minds. How will the men’s basketball team perform after losing Allan Ray, Randy Foye and Kyle Lowry? Can Mike Nardi and Will Sheridan make up for all the lost scoring and leadership? Which underclassmen will step up and fill some of the void? And, perhaps the question on most fans’ minds, who are the Northwood University Seahawks?

History lesson

Northwood University occupies three locations around the nation in Texas, Michigan and Florida, each with their own respective athletic program. On Saturday, the Wildcats will travel to the Florida campus to compete against the Seahawks. The Seahawks are unknown as a NCAA basketball powerhouse for two reasons. First, this is the first season the Florida campus has fielded a men’s (and women’s, for that matter) basketball team. Second, the Seahawks do not even belong to the NCAA; they are a part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. The team is currently seeking entry into the NCAA as a Division II program. The Seahawks will welcome the Wildcats to the Countess de Hoernle Student Life Center in beautiful West Palm Beach, Fla. for the team’s first regular season game, first home game and, probably, first regular season loss.

Even though Northwood-Florida has never played a collegiate-level basketball game, the team still has a history with Villanova. Sort of. The Wildcats will show up to play with a solid reputation that precedes them. They have a program with more funding, more battle-tested players and a stronger reputation. However, they might not have a coaching advantage.

For the first time since the conclusion of the 1994 season at UNLV, Villanova’s Jay Wright will reunite with his former mentor and Villanova coaching legend, Rollie Massimino. Villanovans may best know him as the mastermind behind the 1985 National Championship team. Massimino came out of retirement in 2005 to head Northwood’s fledgling program and is looking to establish the team within the Florida Sun Conference. As it turns out, the Seahawks garnered two first-place votes in the conference and are ranked second.

New kids on the block

Under the wing of Massimino, the Seahawks are not afraid to call on the best of the best to gain some experience. This was evident when Northwood arranged to play its first ever exhibition game against the defending NCAA D-I National Championship Florida Gators. The Seahawks were realistic about their expectations.

“We knew we were not going to win,” Massimino told reporters.

That is not to say they did not have goals. Before the game, Massimino expressed his desire to hold the Gators under 73 points. Florida scored 70 points. In 39 games last year, only seven teams managed to hold the Gators under 73. Then again, Joakim Noah only played 14 minutes and Corey Brewer only saw 21 minutes of action against the Seahawks. The other starters saw similarly low minutes.

Although the Seahawks are new, they aren’t necessarily bad. It goes without saying that they will be well-coached. The players aren’t too shabby either. Junior forward Marvin Owens, formerly of the Community College of Rhode Island, led all junior college scorers last year with 27.4 points per game and was named an All-American. The perimeter will be patrolled by junior guard Chad Radosevich, who averaged 15.9 points per game en route to a First Team All-Suncoast Conference selection last year, lit up the net from beyond the arc and even drained 10 3-pointers in one game. Also in the backcourt is senior guard Darel Lucas, who has an NCAA D-II national championship under his belt. The frontcourt may be the weakness of the team, as the ‘Hawks seem to lack dominant scorers down low.

Resilient ‘Cats?

The Wildcats lost 54.6 of their 74.4 ppg from last year. That number is unsettling. The loss of Villanova’s trio of guards hurts, but reality has set in and the ‘Cats are gearing up for the ’06-’07 season with a new game plan. Villanova will have to go bigger this year. Curtis Sumpter, Mike Nardi and Will Sheridan will look to become the new “big three” of Villanova. Presumably, they will be supplemented by Scottie Reynolds and Dante Cunningham.

Sumpter has the potential to shine, and some people even project him to be the Big East Player of the Year. Two years ago, before his injury, Sumpter was putting up a solid 15.3 ppg, which was coupled with 7.2 rebounds per game. If Sumpter can return to this form, the Wildcats will be in good shape. The Northwood game will serve as a good checkup on Sumpter’s progress as makes his return.

Nardi comes back this year as the team’s leading returning scorer with 10.4 ppg. However, his biggest contribution to the team may be his leadership on the court. Even so, he will still be expected to score.

Sheridan may be the x-factor of the team. He played timidly at times last year, but broke out against then-No. 1-ranked UConn. If he can roam down low with the same tenacity as he did that night at the Wachovia Center, he will be a huge contributing presence beneath the boards statistically and in spirit. “Bump” will need to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with on the blocks. That assertion needs to start Saturday.