The Rutgers Athletic Center is the site of one of the most shocking losses in Villanova’s history, when Jonathan Mitchell completed a 4-point play with less than a second remaining in the game to complete a wild comeback bid last February. Villanova had a 10 point lead in that game with 2:42 left on the clock but didn’t score in over a minute and a half, allowing Rutgers to will within 3 with a minute left.
This season, Villanova again travels to Piscataway, but this time with lower expectations. The unranked Wildcats are now the underdogs looking for an upset, a game behind Rutgers in the Big East standings.
Despite having a worse record, KenPom.com ranks Villanova a spot higher than the Scarlet Knights, but predicts that Rutgers would win this game 64% of the time.
Junior point guard Maalik Wayns returned to the starting line-up for the Wildcats in their last game at Georgetown and will again be available against Rutgers. James Bell has also missed games recently with a sprained left ankle, as has JayVaughn Pinkston, both starters prior to their injuries and both will be listed as day-to-day heading into the Rutgers game.
Bell has practiced on a limited basis this week, but will be a game-time decision for Jay Wright.
The Wildcats have struggled with injuries and without them this season, with bad defense giving way to bad offense in many cases. The ‘Cats have a long way to go to look like the team they were expected to be this year.
"The (mistakes) are often results of inexperience," stated Villanova coach Jay Wright. "All those little things, all those details are a part of inexperience and that's been a big part of our struggle this season. Individually inexperienced and then just always having different groups together. One guys is in, one guy's out, one guy's hurt, one guy's out. We have not been good enough to overcome that this year.
"The guys give us effort, though. We just have to continue to keep pushing through it and get better."
Rutgers, meanwhile, is coming off of an upset win over in-state rivals Seton Hall on Saturday. The Scarlet Knights knocked off the Pirates, 77-72 in overtime in Newark.
The Scarlet Knights are led by Eli Carter with 13.4 points per game and 2.2 assists. Gilvydas Biruta is close behind with 10.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game while Dane Miller provides a team-high 6.5 rebounds per game. Biruta is also their best 3-point shooter at 36.8% while seven Rutgers players have connected on more than one-third of their attempts from deep.
They also share the ball, with four players averaging over 2 assists per game, with Jerome Seagears leading the way with 2.3 per game. Seagears has averaged 15 points in his last two outings and knocked down the game-winning triple against Seton Hall.
Villanova will have a challenge on their hands in this game and may be shorthanded as they were against Georgetown if injured players are unable to return. Wayns will need to find his legs again in order to become as effective as he was before the injury, since the Wildcats will need his scoring without Pinkston and Bell available or at full-strength.
The game will tip-off at 9:00 pm from the RAC in Piscataway, NJ and will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2.