Coming off the last-second victory over the No. 14 North Carolina Tar Heels to win the Maui Invitational on Wednesday, the No. 17 Texas Longhorns host the No. 12 Villanova Wildcats on Sunday at 12 p.m. Central on ESPN.
The premier non-conference game of the season gives head coach Shaka Smart and his team another opportunity to pick up a marquee victory before embarking on the crucible of Big 12 play.
Villanova enters the game at 3-1 with top-100 victories over Boston College and Arizona State, but also featuring a surprising overtime loss to Virginia Tech. The Wildcats boast one of the nation’s best offenses in the early going and limit possessions by playing at a slow pace and securing defensive rebounds.
Since head coach Jay Wright doesn’t have a player over 6’9, one of the key determinants for Sunday’s game may be whether Texas can bother Villanova with their length and athleticism, an area where the Longhorns should have an advantage.
Unlike previous opponents like Indiana and North Carolina, Villanova shoots the ball well from beyond the arc — 36.7 percent so far this season — so Texas will have to defend the three-point line in a way that they did not in the last two games.
The Wildcats are not a deep team, as only six players average more than 12 minutes per game, but the scoring is balanced with four players averaging between 13 and 15.5 points per game, led by sophomore forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who also leads the team with 9.3 rebounds per game.
Smart wants his team to focus on its defense-first identity and to clean up areas where the Longhorns have struggled so far this season — avoiding fouls and securing defensive rebounds. Getting several contributors on track would help, too, especially senior forward Jericho Sims, who is only averaging 20 minutes per game due to foul trouble and ineffectiveness. Redshirt junior guard Andrew Jones is still trying to find his rhythm from long distance, as is freshman forward Greg Brown III.
Against North Carolina, Texas was able to pull out a victory despite those three players struggling, but Villanova is good enough that the Horns may need more significant contributions from them.
Kenpom.com predicts a close game with a 56-percent win probability for Texas.