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#21 Texas at Villanova Preview

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The #21 Horns (13-4, 3-1) are back in action on Saturday afternoon but step out of conference for the final time this season for a date with Villanova (12-5, 2-3). Tip time is 12:30 PM on CBS. The game will be the first of five this season for the Wildcats in the Wachovia Center (20,056).Texas enters this one after a heartbreaking triple overtime loss at Oklahoma State on Tuesday night while Nova enters having beaten #20 Notre Dame, 102-87, on Wednesday night to claim their first win over ranked opponent this season.

Some of you might remember that these two teams hooked up last year in Austin. The Horns held the Wildcats to under 30% shooting from the floor and beat then-#3 Villanova, 58-55. Like our earlier matchup with LSU, both teams have significantly different makeups this season. Texas lost all five starters from last year and six of their top seven players, while Villanova lost starters Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry, and Allan Ray to the NBA. Villanova rode those stars to a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament and an Elite Eight appearance, before bowing out to the eventual national champion Florida Gators.

Villanova's Schedule
Despite new personnel, the Wildcats started the season quickly by winning seven of their first eight contests. Their only loss came to Xavier in a tournament in the US Virgin Islands. They then won three of their next four to enter Big East play 10-2. They do not have a signature non-conference win and beating Texas would significantly boost their resume.

The Big East has been rough for Nova. They have already dropped road games at West Virginia and Syracuse and a home game with DePaul. Their two wins in conference are substantial though. Villanova won at Georgetown on January 8th and beat #20 Notre Dame earlier this week. Nova is #25 in Ken Pomeroy's latest college basketball ratings. Texas stands at #29.

Villanova's Roster
After the pre-season injury loss of Curtis Sumpter last season, Jay Wright decided to play a very unconventional four guard starting lineup. Although it worked well last year, Villanova is back to a more traditional lineup of just two guards.

The stars are seniors Curtis Sumpter (6'7" 225) and Mike Nardi (6'2" 170). Sumpter is blessed with NBA talent but has been hampered by injuries during his time in Philadelphia. He has the ability to knock down the mid range jumper or bang and score on the low blocks. Sumpter is also not afraid to shoot the three pointer. Twice this season he has attempted 10 threes in a game. Sumpter leads the team in points (16.8 ppg) and rebounds (6.8 rpg). Nardi's game is similar to Derek Raivio's of Gonzaga. Both are skilled ball handlers and confident floor leaders. Nardi can knock down the open jumper but is always looking to distribute the ball to an open teammate. In the Big East, Nardi is 17th in scoring (14.1 ppg), 12th in assists (4.4 apg), third in free throw percentage (88%), and fourth in assist / turnover ratio (2.08). He is a streaky three point shooter who could give our 2-3 zone problems if he gets hot.

The other staring guard will be Scottie Reynolds (6'2" 195). Like Damion James, Reynolds originally signed to play for Oklahoma this season before being released from his letter of intent following Kelvin Samson's departure to Indiana. Reynolds, a McDonald's All American as a senior, is really playing well lately. He scored a career high 27 points against Notre Dame and is averaging 20.5 points over his last four.

Starting at forward will be Dante Cunningham (6'8" 225) and Will Sheridan (6'8" 240). While neither are exceptional scorers, they both rebound the ball well and use their bodies to play physical defense in the paint. Villanova will also use Shane Clark (6'7" 205) off the bench for about half the game. These three could combine to give Villanova valuable second chance opportunities with offensive rebounds if the Horns don't block out effectively.

Villanova By the Numbers
Villanova is averaging 77.4 ppg but has had trouble scoring in Big East play. They force over 18 turnovers per game, prefer to play quickly, and score points off turnovers and from behind the arc. They are averaging over eight made three pointers per game, good for third in the Big East. Nova is also the best free throw shooting team in the conference. At this point in the season, their offense is ahead of their defense. Nova ranks 14th in the Big East in field goal percentage defense and last in the Big East in three point field goal percentage defense.

Prediction / Horns' Objectives
Find our legs. Four Horns played over 50 minutes on Tuesday night against OSU. We have already detailed our lack of depth. If we have the energy, push the pace. Texas has better finishers in the open court and will greatly benefit from easy points in transition.

Defend the three pointer. If Nardi, Reynolds, and Sumpter get hot from behind the arc, look out. The Wachovia Center will be jumping and the Horns could easily get upset.

Better shot Selection. Too often, especially when we are down, the Horns shoot a contested three pointer that doesn't come within the flow of the offense. Durant and AJ Abrams need to show better patience and recognize mismatches before hoisting one from 25 feet.

Control the Glass. The Cowboys outrebounded the Horns by five but it felt like more. Villanova holds a substantial size advantage and Sheridan and Cunningham are skilled offensive rebounders. Texas must crash the boards and limit second and third chances of the Wildcats.

The Horns will be searching for a significant non-conference road win on Saturday afternoon. I think they get it but it won't be easy. The Horns didn't make it back to Austin until late Wednesday and then had to travel to Philadelphia today before playing another game on Saturday morning. I won't be surprised if the Horns come out sluggish in this one. This team is too talented though to let this one slip away. Texas is vulnerable against physical, skilled big men. Thankfully, Nova's strength is at guard and is more than matched by Augustin, Abrams, and Mason. Texas rallies in the second half behind a seventh straight double-double from Kevin Durant. Horns win 82-79.

--AW--