Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
On Friday night at 7 PM at the Pavilion, the Villanova Wildcats take on the NJIT Highlanders. The Wildcats enter the contest on a 4 game winning streak and sport an 8-4 overall record. Meanwhile, NJIT has a record of 6-5 but they are 0-4 on the road this year. Included in those 4 road losses are tight games against Providence (64-63), St. John's (57-49), and Seton Hall (68-59). NJIT has never beaten a Big East team. This will be the first time the Highlanders and Wildcats have squared off in hoops.
In his 4th season at the helm, head coach Jim Engles has led the Highlanders to more wins each season than the year before. Last season, NJIT finished 15-17 overall, but 9-3 in the Great West Conference. Leading the way for this year's squad is senior guard Chris Flores, who is averaging 17.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, over 2 steals per game. Another senior is second in scoring for NJIT, as guard/forward Ryan Woods is scoring at a clip of 13.7 points per game while averaging 5.1 rebounds. Woods is also shooting 40% from downtown on the season.
For Villanova, this represents the classic "trap" game. The young Cats are feeling good about themselves after winning a few in a row and Big East action is on the horizon. Jay Wright needs to have Nova mentally prepared for this scrappy, senior-laden NJIT team. This game should not be close, but Villanova also should not have lost to Columbia by 20 at home. It would be nice to see the Cats follow the same recipe they used against Monmouth this past weekend.
"I think we're starting to find that when we go inside-out, our forwards have been able to find our guards for some really good looks," Jay Wright said of his team's improved accuracy from deep, which was on-display at Monmouth. "JayVaughn (Pinkston) did an especially good job of that against Monmouth with eight assists.
"That's big for us. We need that."
Even with the shooting improvement, Villanova struggled protecting the ball in most games this season. If NJIT is going to upset the 'Cats tonight, they will likely need to feed off of those turnovers.
"I think we've gotten better and we have the potential to get a lot better," Wright said. "We had 19 turnovers (against Monmouth) and we have been turning the ball over a lot. But our defense is getting better, our 3-point defense is a lot better and we're starting to understand where we have to go with the ball on offense. Every game we see a little piece of it fall into place."
This will be the last non-conference game on the 2012-2013 schedule for Villanova. The Cats open up Big East play on January 2nd, 2013 at home against St. John's.
Place: The Pavilion, Villanova, PA
Watch it: ESPN3.com