Men’s basketball will battle Bison tonight

Greg Habeeb

In the postgame press conference following Villanova’s season opener, a 77-66 Wildcats victory over Lehigh, Head Coach Jay Wright stated “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

’Nova responded with a much more polished game in its second  outing, a dominant 37-point victory over an overwhelmed Maryland Eastern Shore team on Monday night at the Pavilion. The Wildcats will play another home tilt tonight against the Bucknell Bisons in the second leg of the Progressive Legends Classic. 

Villanova leads the all-time series between the two schools, 15-8, including a 68-52 win in their last meeting in 2010.

The Bison enter the game at 1-1, having beaten Marist in their season opener by three points before receiving a 77-53 drubbing at the hands of No. 24 Michigan to kick off the Legends Classic. 

Bucknell posted a 16-14 record last season and was, like Villanova, knocked out in the first round of their conference tournament. The long time Patriot League members graduated three members of last season’s starting five, including the 2014 campaign’s leading scorer in guard Cameron Ayers and leading rebounder in forward Brian Fitzpatrick.

This season, Bucknell is looking to lean on junior guard Chris Hass for scoring and leadership while trying to fill in the blanks with veteran talent and new faces. Hass averaged 11.1 points per game as a sophomore last season, and though he struggled in the Bison’s opener by mustering a meager five points on 2-of-10 shooting, he bounced back with an effective outing against Michigan, scoring 21 points on only 14 shots. 

Freshman center Nana Foulland is one of the aforementioned new faces. The Reading, Pa., native started both games for Bucknell. While he, like Hass, struggled against Marist, he was able to bounce back with a solid—though not exactly eye-popping—performance against the Wolverines by registering 9 points and 11 rebounds. 

The No. 12 Wildcats will look to attack Bucknell from 3-point range, a strategy they almost always employ. 

Though ’Nova has only shot 28 percent from downtown this season, it has not been for lack of trying. The ’Cats have heaved up 54 shots from behind the are.

Bucknell will provide a barometer as to whether these shooting struggles are blips on the radar or a more serious issue. The Bison have allowed opponents to make threes at a proficient 43.4 percent clip. 

In theory, Villanova’s “four out” offensive sets should thrive against a Bucknell team, which has struggled to contain opponents three point shooting so far this season.

Ultimately for the Wildcats, the key to this matchup will be to maintain the same level focus that they brought to Monday night’s win. Bucknell is absolutely the lesser team, and Villanova should have no problem dispatching the Bison easily before moving on to a matchup with No. 24 VCU next week, especially with the game being held on the Wildcats homecourt. 

However, Wright is likely to remind his team before the game what can happen when it takes inferior opponents lightly. 

Against Lehigh, another Patriot League program best known for its upset of Duke as a 15 seed in the first round of 2012 NCAA tournament, the Wildcats struggled to get their offense in gear, and trailed 46-40 early in the second half before going on a 22-7 run to retake control of the proceedings. 

Senior guard Dylan Ennis was the hero of that game, tossing up a 19-5-5 line to lead the Wildcats. 

However he was not the only Wildcat who made his presence felt, as sophomore forward Kris Jenkins added nine points on 3-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc against the Mountain Hawks. 

Jenkins then scored 15 points to go along with four steals on Monday night, proving that with a season of collegiate play under his belt he could be ready to step forward as a major contributor. 

Jenkins’ potential emergence as an offensive threat looms as a possible boon to Villanova’s already formidable long range attack.

At six-foot-four, he is a tweener; he is smaller than the traditional power forward and does not possess the lateral quickness of a wing, at times making him a liability defensively. 

However, the Maryland native has flashed quick hands and a smooth shooting stroke in this season’s early stages, as well as an apparent comfort level and better positioning on both ends of the floor, which can only be attained with a year of seasoning at this level. Jenkins, who fell out of rotation at times last year, will be a key factor to the Wildcats success this year and in this game.

Tipoff for is tonight at 8 p.m. The game will be televised on Fox Sports 1.