Cruisin’ Wildcats set for Sooner showdown

Kyle Scudilla

In one of the most highly anticipated games in recent Villanova basketball history, and the most intriguing contest thus far in the college season, the No. 4 ranked Wildcats are set to do battle with the No. 5 ranked Oklahoma Sooners tomorrow in the Pavilion.

After strong starts against relatively weak opponents, the Wildcats and Sooners are each looking to make a strong statement early in the season in what could be a very closely contested game.

Mike Nardi vs.

Terrell Everett

Although he may be overshadowed at times by other members of the dynamic Villanova backcourt, guard Mike Nardi is the key in the ignition of Villanova’s offense. Off to a hot start this season, the junior guard is averaging 13.5 PPG. Nardi’s strengths are his three-point shooting, efficient ball control and sound fundamentals on both sides of the ball. He’ll need to be on his ‘A’ game defensively, drawing a tough assignment in Oklahoma senior guard Terrell Everett.

Everett, named to the Big 12 Honorable Mention list by the conference’s coaches last season, knows how to distribute the basketball. His assist average last season was second in the conference, and his weapons this season are even more plentiful.

The key to stopping Everett could be the Wildcats’ press defense, which has worked well at frustrating opposing guards in the early going.

Kyle Lowry vs.

Chris Walker

The newest addition to the Wildcats’ starting lineup is sophomore combo guard Kyle Lowry. Lowry, despite being the shortest member of the four guard set that Villanova features, has added his knack for driving to the hoop and drawing fouls and his keen rebounding sense to the Wildcats’ lineup.

At 6’0″, Lowry is averaging a surprising 6.5 boards per contest. His great athleticism and no-fear attitude allow him to play bigger than he actually is. He’ll most likely be matched up against Sooner guard and junior college transfer Chris Walker.

Walker, a southpaw hailing from Sacramento, is adept at feeding the post, and creates a solid backcourt passing tandem with Everett. He will likely see the least amount of minutes out of the Oklahoma starters, as he often rotates in and out with some of Oklahoma’s scorers off the bench.

Allan Ray vs.

David Godbold

Senior guard Allan Ray has helped to silence his critics early with his outstanding shooting from long distance. Ray, who suffered from shooting woes during last season’s NCAA Tournament, has come out of the gates like a man possessed. The sharpshooter broke his own school record against Lehigh this year, when he connected on eight three-pointers, setting the school mark for a single game. His excellent shooting and quickness off the ball is a nightmare for most defenders and is a big reason why he is averaging an outstanding 21.0 ppg so far.

Sophomore swingman David Godbold will draw the assignment of defending Ray on Saturday. Godbold experienced steady improvement over the course of his freshman year that inserted him into the Sooners’ starting lineup by season-end. He has started out this season in the lineup and his shooting is a big reason why he’ll stay there.

So far this year, Godbold is shooting 46.2 percent from the field, including 6-13 from downtown. He does have a size advantage over his Villanova counterpart, but Ray’s solid perimeter defense should limit the number of open looks Godbold is able to get.

Randy Foye vs.

Taj Gray

Completing the quartet of guards Villanova features is senior Randy Foye, who has become the “power forward” in the starting lineup with the absence of the injured Curtis Sumpter. Foye, a big-time contributor in multiple facets of the game as a junior, really stepped his game up to a higher level come tournament time, and has continued straight through to this year. An athletic guard with the ability to defend in the post and on the perimeter, Foye has posted very well-rounded numbers this year. He is averaging 21.0 ppg, along with 5.0 rpg and 5.5 apg. Despite his ability to defend bigger players, he may be at a serious disadvantage against Oklahoma’s power forward, Taj Gray. Gray, named Big 12 Newcomer of the Year after transferring from junior college, is a force on the offensive and defensive boards. With the ball, he has a soft touch and great low post moves, which led to him shooting a conference-high .557 from the field last year. So far this year, Gray is averaging a solid 12.3 ppg and 8.7 rpg. Although Foye will most likely start against Gray, the Sooners low post star will most likely garner defense from the Villanova bigs, including Will Sheridan, Jason Fraser and Dante Cunningham for the majority of the day.

Will Sheridan

vs. Kevin Bookout

Junior forward Will Sheridan single-handedly represents the size in Villanova’s starting lineup and lines up at center. A 6’8″ junior, Sheridan has played his role well so far in the early going. He’s averaging a team-high 8.0 rebounds per game, and has been solid defending the opponent’s big men. Although he has gained more confidence on the offensive end and acquired an improved shooting stroke, he is not often called on to do much scoring. He’ll square off against senior forward-center Kevin Bookout, another star member of the loaded Oklahoma frontcourt. After an impressive freshman year, Bookout was sidelined for most of his sophomore year, playing in only 13 games. He bounced back strongly in his junior year, however, and has started well this season. He is averaging 11.0 ppg along with 7.0 rpg, as well as shooting a gaudy 57.1 percent. Along with Gray, Bookout poses a big threat to opponents’ big men.

Jason Fraser/Dante Cunningham/Chris Charles vs.

Michael Neal/Nate Carter/

Taylor Griffin-Longar

What the Villanova starting lineup lacks in size, the bench makes up for in a big way. Center Jason Fraser is a senior leader and the sixth man of the Wildcats’ squad. Fraser, highly touted coming into Villanova, has been hampered by injuries his entire career, but has still remained a solid contributor, including a 21 point, 15 rebound performance against the Florida Gators in last year’s NCAA Tournament. According to head coach Jay Wright, Fraser is “healthier than he’s ever been to start a season” and primed to make a big impact off the Wildcat bench. Joining him in bolstering the frontcourt is fifth-year senior Chris Charles, who has come back quickly from a wrist injury, and adds much-needed size and experience to a young Villanova bench. The standout among Villanova’s freshman class thus far has been Dante Cunningham, an athletic forward with a long wingspan and a nose for the ball. These three will likely get most of the minutes off of Villanova’s bench. Swingman Dwayne Anderson could also see some action spelling the backcourt. They’ll match-up with Oklahoma’s deep and diverse second unit. Leading the team in scoring so far this season has been sixth man Michael Neal, an absolute marksman from long range. Fresh out of junior college, Neal is shooting at a 44.7% clip from downtown this season and averaging 14.3 PPG. He is joined by 6’6″ guard-forward Nate Carter, who also packs a scoring punch, averaging 8.7 PPG. Freshman forward Taylor Griffin and sophomore center Longar Longar round out a solid group off the bench.

The Final Word

This game seems to be a classic game of varying strengths, pitting Villanova’s explosive backcourt against Oklahoma’s solidly built front line. Early on, the undersized but quick Wildcats should harass the Oklahoma backcourt to create turnovers and keep the ball away from Gray and Bookout. If the Oklahoma big men are getting the best of the Wildcats early, it would not be a surprise to see the Wildcats mix and match pairs of Sheridan, Fraser, and Cunningham to team with the classic three-guard set. Conversely, the Wildcats could force the Sooners to play small if Villanova’s shooters get hot and stretch the defense. While the Cats may be a bit undersized in the interior game, the Sooners big men will also face a tough challenge, having to step out on the perimeter and guard the likes of Ray and Foye, who can fill it up from the outside and have the speed to blow past the bigger defenders on the floor. One thing is for sure, the fans at the Pavilion should be treated to a classic slugfest between two of the country’s basketball heavyweights.