Villanova will return to a familiar arena on Thursday night for the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic when they take the short trip up to New York City and face off against the Purdue Boilermakers at Madison Square Garden. The game is the 2nd half of a double-header (Alabama takes on Oregon State at 7 pm).
Villanova is 2-0 afters wins over UDC and Marshall, while Purdue enters the game 1-1 after a loss to Bucknell and a win over Hofstra. Both teams sport young rosters and will be looking to make a statement with a win in this early season tournament.
If you haven't yet read our Q&A with Purdue blog Hammer & Rails, take a look for their thoughts on the matchup.
Matt Painter has had one of the most successful runs in the country in recent years as he has taken the Boilermakers to 6 straight NCAA tournaments. However, the nucleus of those years has moved on and he'll look to the next wave if he wants to continue the success he has enjoyed in West Lafayette, Indiana.
D.J. Byrd and Terone Johnson are the two names you'll want to keep an eye on Thursday night. Johnson is sporting an ankle injury that kept him out of the Bucknell game and limited him in the Hofstra game. He'll definitely play vs. 'Nova, but how effective he is remains to be seen. Byrd on the other hand was expected to step up from a role player to the go-to guy, but he's been less than stellar so far in the early going. These two will operate on the wings, and Villanova will need another strong defensive effort to keep them at bay.
At the point, Purdue will roll with Ronnie Johnson (younger brother of Terone), giving us a freshman on freshman matchup at the point. Johnson has proven to be a menance on the defensive end, and will give Ryan Arcidiacono a real test.
Purdue's depth in the frontcourt is pretty outstanding, but they really don't have any standouts. Still, they're going to be throwing a lot of bodies at Mouphtaou Yarou, Maurice Sutton and Daniel Ochefu and they'll need to be ready for another war inside, as Purdue likes to play inside-out on offense. Keep your eyes on Sandi Marcus, Jacob Lawson, Travis Carroll and newcomer AJ Hammons.
Keys To Victory
Defense To Offense - In the first two games of the season 'Nova has done a great job of causing turnovers and turning those into transition buckets. Jay Wright has let his team run and has utilized a solid rotation of 9, 10 if you think Brzoja might start getting some more burn. Like Marshall, Purdue is a big team, but what makes them different is their desire to slow the game down. Villanova can counter that with an uptempo style of play.
Turnovers - Through 2 games Villanova is turning the ball over at a pretty frightening rate, but as noted by the VU Hoops community, many of these are due to sloppy passing that can
easily hopefully be rectified in short order. Ryan Arcidiacono and Tony Chennault will need to be especially careful against Ronnie Johnson. 'Nova's offense and defense has been good enough to get them wins so far, but the turnovers need to be cut down.
Where's Mouph & JayVaughn? - In the first 2 games Mouphtaou Yarou was virtually invisible on the offensive end. Despite turning in a solid performance on the boards, many are clamoring for Maurice Sutton to take on a starting role. Yarou broke out last season on offense, but has been quiet so far. Similarly, JayVaughn Pinkston looks a little out of form as he adjusts to his new, slimmed down body. He may be working through a wrist injury as well. If Jay Wright can get them involved, they'll add to an already potent-looking Villanova team.
Villanova took a big step towards a successful season with the win over Marshall, a game that will surely give this young team confidence. And they're doing it mostly without significant contributions from two of their best players in Yarou and Pinkston. Purdue is going to be a more difficult test however. Matt Painter is one of the best coaches in the country, and though they're young, they do have some veterans that have been through some wars. Expect a good, even game, but can you doubt this 'Nova team yet? They'll get a victory with strong play down the stretch just as they did last Sunday.
The game will be shown live on ESPN2 and ESPN3 starting at 9:30 pm ET.