The ninth ranked Texas (13-2, 2-0) men step out of conference for the final time in a nationally televised clash with #3 Villanova (11-1, 2-1) on Saturday at 12 Noon CST. The Horns have won five straight and have dominated their first two Big 12 opponents. Villanova started the season 10-0 with impressive wins over Oklahoma and Louisville, but Big East play has not been as easy. The Wildcats beat Louisville in their Big East opener before losing at home to West Virginia (a team Texas has defeated this season) and then were taken to overtime at Rutgers before securing the victory. Villanova will be the fifth ranked opponent for the Horns and their third ranked in the top five. Texas will only be the third ranked opponent for the Wildcats.
Villanova is led by stellar guard play. In fact, the Wildcats have been forced into a four guard starting lineup after the loss of star Curtis Sumpter earlier this year. Best among them are Randy Foye (21 ppg, 5 rpg, 3.5 apg) and Allan Ray (19.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.2 apg). Both are seniors and legitimate All-American candidates. Both Foye and Ray can score from anywhere on the floor. Foye likes to use his 6'5" frame to score more inside while Ray at only 6'2" shoots more jump shots and more three pointers. Villanova's other two staring guards are Mike Nardi (12.6 ppg) and Kyle Lowry (11 ppg, 4 rpg, 4 apg). Lowry is the point guard and leads the team in assists. He can score as well and is coming off a career high 28 points in his last game against Rutgers. Coach Jay Wright uses a platoon of big men: 6'9" Jason Fraser, 6'8" Will Sheridan, and 6'9" freshman Dante Cunningham. None are particularly outstanding but together they provide enough low block production to be successful. If Villanova hopes to steal a road victory, all three big men must control the defensive glass and limit second chance opportunities for the Horns.
Texas has also played three guards with Daniel Gibson, Kenton Paulino, and AJ Abrams all on the floor for significant minutes together. This change allows PJ Tucker to move to power forward and stay around the basket where he is more comfortable. The move, while effective, has almost been forced on Coach Barnes. Mike Williams, the only true frontcourt sub, has been out the last five games with injuries. Barnes is left with only 5'10" Abrams and undersized redshirt freshman Connor Atchley on his bench.
The Horns have been playing outstanding defense lately. Texas has held four of their last five opponents under 40% from the floor. As Bean has pointed out, good defense turns into easy offense, something the Horns must have to win. Texas has also controlled the glass. Eleven times this year the Horns have outrebounded their opponent by more than 10 boards. This shouldn't change against the undersized Wildcats. And in all big games, turnovers will be crucial. Even in wins, Texas has been turnover prone. If Texas guards can protect the ball and effectively feed Lamarcus Aldridge and Tucker on the low blocks, Texas will win.
I expect the Drum to be rocking on Saturday. The students will be back and Villanova is by far the best team we play at home this season. There is no reason not get excited about this one. I may even have to sit in my mezzanine season tickets where I have yet to sit this year. This should be a close game but one in which I expect the Horns to prevail.
This is yet another game, like Iowa State, matching our outstanding frontcourt against our opponents' outstanding backcourt. While Villanova is much better than the Cyclones, they still won't have an answer for Aldridge, Buckman, and Tucker down low. Gibson shut down Iowa State guard Curtis Stinson on Monday night and Colorado guard Richard Roby last Saturday. If Gibson is anywhere near as effective on Foye, the Wildcats will be in for a long afternoon.
Texas controls the glass, scores 50+ in the paint, and plays solid enough defense to escape with an 80-76 win.