Villanova basketball is off to an encouraging, albeit surprising start, making it to the championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide over the weekend. They ended up losing that game by a considerable margin, but it was a good test against a squad that is gaining confidence on its way to Big 5 play.
But first, Villanova faces its final tune up against Columbia at 7PM ET in The Pavilion, being broadcast on ESPN3.
If Villanova had a bit of trouble with Alabama’s backcourt, they can rest easy due to Columbia’s focus on being big. With 6’11" Corey Osetkowski and 6’9" Mark Cisco on the floor at the same time, Villanova might have difficulty rebounding since sheer size won’t help them against the big Columbia bodies.
"I think size is a strength of this year's team," third year head coach Kyle Smith said. "Right now, everyone's trying to play small and we're going to try the opposite. We're zigging when everyone else is zagging, so we'll see who has the advantage."
That’s not to say that Columbia’s only assets are down low. In the backcourt is senior first team Ivy-League point guard Brian Barbour. Last season he averaged just over 15 points and 4 assists per game, and is the leader of this Lions squad.
"The thing about Brian is he's comfortable being a leader," Smith said. "He's the one person who's role hasn't changed much going into this year. As a coach, it gives you great ease when you can put the ball in the hands of an experienced point guard."
The Lions also have had a chance to play a lot of games together. They took a trip to Europe to play, ultimately growing team chemistry and figuring out each other’s play styles. They were picked to finish 3rd in the Ivy League and are 1-1 on the season.
Keys To Victory
Rebounding - If it wasn’t emphasized enough, Columbia is huge down low. Mouph Yarou and Daniel Ochefu will need to combine size and technique down low in order to really get after it on the boards. Second and third opportunities for the Columbia offense will cause this game to be a headache for the ‘Cats if they can’t impose their will down low.
Limit Turnovers - This is a huge bugaboo with the ‘Cats. They turned the ball over 14 times, which simply won’t get it done in the Big East. Perhaps ‘Nova’s breakneck offensive pace is conducive to turnovers, but the fact is that these have to be limited. The bigs down low have to catch the ball when given to them (looking at Mouph), and Ryan Arch will need to learn when and when not to dribble through guys.
Ryan Arch - Speaking of, he had a bit of a down game on Friday night. He shot just 1-8 from the three point line, but was still able to contribute 11 points. His value increases exponentially if he can limit turnovers, shoot with high consistency instead of high volume, and find his teammates when the shot just isn’t there.
This game won’t be a cake walk, but it shouldn’t be a nailbiter down the stretch either. The Wildcats are better than expected, but if they want to really challenge the Big East, they will need to put away teams that should be put away. I expect this game to be very close at half, with ‘Nova pulling away late in the 2nd half and winning by about 10.