The #6 Texas Longhorns (6-1) face their third top 20 opponent of the season in the #12/#16 Villanova Wildcats (8-0) tonight at Madison Square Garden. The match-up is one of two on tilt in the Jimmy V Classic. Davidson and West Virginia start the evening at 6 pm with the Texas/Villanova tip coming 30 minutes following that game's conclusion. The tip for Texas and ‘Nova is listed as 8 pm central but is likely to be closer to 8:30 pm. Both games will be televised by ESPN, Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale on the calls.
Texas and Villanova have met twice all time with both meetings coming recently. The Longhorns prevailed 58-55 in Austin on January 14, 2006 in one of the loudest games ever played at the Erwin Center. Villanova, however, returned the favor the next year by defeating Texas, 76-69, at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia.
Longhorns on the Season
The ‘Horns enter the game on a three game winning streak and fresh off a home-court win over #9 UCLA, 68-64. Texas dropped their other game with a ranked opponent, 81-80, to #8 Notre Dame in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational.
Wildcats on the Season
Villanova arrives in New York City undefeated but untested. The Wildcats own victories over Albany, Fordham, Niagara, Monmouth, Towson, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Houston Baptist. Jeff Sagarin rates Villanova's schedule as the 340th toughest (of 347) in the country. With cupcake wins like those, it is hard to gauge the true strength of the Wildcats.
Villanova Key Contributors
As they have been for a number of seasons, ‘Nova is a guard-driven team. The Wildcats are led by 6-2 junior guard and former OU commitment, Scottie Reynolds, and 6-5 sophomore guard and former McDonald's All American, Corey Stokes. Reynolds is more of a scorer than a shooter who can break down the defense off the dribble, is strong enough to score in the lane, and can finish in transition. He is second on the team in scoring at 14 ppg and first in assists with 4.8 per game.
Stokes is the pure shooter of the bunch. This season, he is shooting 51% from three, 49% from the field, and 84% from the free throw stripe. The third starting guard who is averaging in double figures is 6-1 sophomore, Corey Fisher. Fisher is averaging 11. 3 ppg, leads the team in steals, and is second in assists.
What is interesting, and perhaps more dangerous, about this year's Villanova team compared to previous ones is the emergence of an inside presence. Leading the team in scoring and rebounding is 6-8 senior Dante Cunningham. With four years of hard work, Cunningham has turned himself into a solid college big man. Dante averaged just 2.2 points and 4.0 rebounds his freshman year but improved to 8.7 pts and 5.4 boards his sophomore year and 10.4 pts and 6.5 boards last season. He has become a Big East force this season with his 17.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per contest. Keeping Cunningham off the glass and out of the paint will be a real challenge for the Texas bigs.
Ken Pomeroy Stats
Pomeroy's advanced metric stats show Villanova to be a very good offensive team (43rd in the country) and an excellent defensive one (20th in the country). On offense, Villanova is fantastic at pounding the offensive glass and getting to the free throw line. They also shoot an acceptable 37% from behind the arc and a solid 52% from two-point range.
On defense, Pomeroy's stats indicate the Wildcats are very good at all aspects of defense but not exceptional in any one area. They create turnovers, defend well both inside and outside the three-point line, and control the defense glass. It is important, however, to point out the level of competition from which the statistics were generated is extremely poor. We will all know a lot more about Villanova after their first test of any kind.
Keys to the Game
1) Remember the Defensive Scouting Report. This means sagging off Reynolds and Fisher to force jump shots and to keep them out of the lane. It also means keying on Stokes as he drifts on the perimeter, like teams do to AJ Abrams, and not helping off him like we did against Kyle McAlarney of Notre Dame in Maui.
2) Don't Settle for Jumpers. In the first half against UCLA, the ‘Horns passed the ball, created for each other, and played solid team basketball. After the break, we gave up the lead by relying too heavily on perimeter jumpers, especially early in the shot clock. The Longhorns are one of the worst teams in the country at getting to the free throw line because we too often settle for three-pointers. Attack, get into the lane and to the line, and make Villanova really defend.
3) Feed the Post. Texas is quickly becoming a perimeter oriented team and against a smaller opponent, like Villanova, it is going to be easy to forget about Gary Johnson and Dexter Pittman in the high and low posts. With four players 6-10 or taller, there is no reason for Texas not to be able to play inside-out on offense. I am not putting this all on the guards shooting jumpers or their inability to feed to post correctly. The posts need to do a better job of establishing low post position and providing easy targets. I will be watching tonight to see how many times the Texas offense starts with at least a touch in the post before moving back outside. A simple touch by Big Dex, Johnson, or even Connor Atchley or Clint Chapman will allow easier looks for Abrams, Justin Mason, and Damion James.
Last, the Statesman.com notes that Alexis Wangmene is no longer day-to-day and is out indefinitely with a knee injury. It is also reporting in the same article that J'Covan Brown is planning on enrolling at UT for the spring semester, as Kirk Bohls had previously speculated/reported.
Mark Rosner's Stateman piece on Madison Square Garden's prestige includes some great lines from James, Abrams, and Pittman.