Wildcats prepare to face Kris Dunn and the Friars



TJ Farrell

Last February, Darrun Hilliard and company welcomed the 24th ranked Georgetown Hoyas to their off-campus home at Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia. 

The much anticipated game was also hyped up by the student body as being the “go-to game” of the season. The parking lots that normally are nests for Eagles fans turned into a jungle of students and fans tailgating, excited to watch their Wildcats take on the Hoyas. Those fans went home very happy as the Wildcats ran all over the Hoyas, controlling the pace of the game the entire way en route to a convincing 69-53 victory. 

On Saturday, the “go-to game” of the season is now upon the Villanova student body, once again at the Wells Fargo Center as the nationally ranked Providence Friars visit the Wildcats. Due to NCAA tournament rules, Villanova is not permitted to schedule more than three regular season home games at the Wells Fargo Center during a season, like this one, when the NCAA Tournament will take place at the arena. 

With Villanova’s other two games taking place over Spring Break (Georgetown) and against one of the bottom teams in the Big East standings (St. John’s), the upcoming game against Providence is the biggest at the Wells Fargo Center in the regular season. 

The matchup on Saturday will be the middle game of a three-game Big East test for the Friars, who play Butler, Villanova and Xavier in succession. All three of these nationally-ranked teams will have to focus on shutting down the reigning co-Big East Player of the Year and arguably the top point guard in the country: Kris Dunn. 

For the Wildcats, the two keys to stopping the future NBA lottery pick will be their full court pressure and strong communication on help defense. 

Last season, a combination of Dylan Ennis and Hilliard were given the tough task of shutting down Dunn on three occasions, the final one being in the Big East Tournament semifinals at Madison Square Garden last March. Dunn filled up the box score that evening, falling an assist and three rebounds shy of a triple-double to go along with his 22 points. However, the Wildcats prevailed and won by two. 

This season, neither Ennis nor Hilliard remains on the roster, so the task falls on Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono, as well as Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth coming off the bench. Bridges provides incredible length that could bother Dunn in his attempt to create offense with crafty and quick passes into the paint. 

The length of the redshirt freshman Bridges will also be imperative for the full court press. The press is designed to create turnovers, trap opponents in the corners before and after the half court line and ultimately take time off of the shot clock. He is the head of the press with his long arms, a position usually occupied by Josh Hart while Bridges is not in the game. The first line of defense will be forced to face Dunn head-on.

The Wildcats’ head coach Jay Wright has praised the talented young point guard in the past, making it easy to speculate on whom the defensive game plan will focus.

Although Dunn has received all of the national attention, his supporting cast has been impressive as well. After graduating their leading scorer from last season, LaDontae Henton, the Friars have replaced him with a surprising contribution from sophomore Ben Bentil. The 6’9” forward is averaging 19.2 points per game. Besides Bentil and sophomore Rodney Bullock (13.0 ppg), no one else on the squad averages more than eight points per game.  

The Wildcats’ balanced scoring matches up nicely with the top three scoring Friars. The key will be finding that role player who will be able to contribute to the point total. 

In a classic Big East battle between two nationally ranked teams, the stars usually shine, but it is the role players that can give the team the spark it needs. A timely 3-pointer by Kris Jenkins or a big dunk by Bridges could spark the crowd and really fire up the Wildcats. 

The only way to correctly set up the press is after a made shot, so strong shooting will be key for ‘Nova. In transition, the trap has too many open holes for the Wildcats to execute it correctly. After a made shot, Hart or Bridges will be able to establish the trap behind them and get ready for the inbounds pass to Dunn or whoever will be bringing up the ball. Smart shots and a well-executed offense will lead to the ‘Cats being able to set up their defense. 

Another top-25 win would be an added achievement to an already stellar season for the Wildcats.