On Friday night, basketball will officially return to The Pavilion when Jay Wright's Villanova Wildcats take on Jeff Ruland's UDC Firebirds. While nowhere near the marquee matchups we'll see later this season, this matchup does bring on a couple of interesting storylines.
Friday's game marks the tip-off of the 2012 2KSports Classic, which begins regional round play all around the country. Despite the outcomes of their games against UDC and Marshall, Villanova will be automatically advancing to play the Purdue Boilermakers on November 15th at Madison Square Garden in the semifinals. Nevertheless, 'Nova can't sleepwalk through tomorrow's game if it want to be firing on all cylinders when they hit Broadway.
Tomorrow's game will not just be a reunion for 'Nova Nation and the Villanova hoops squad, but also for Dylan Ennis and his brother Brandon Ennis, a senior on the team who will look to help spring a massive upset on his baby brother's team.
On the UDC side, Jeff Ruland is coming off of a 22-6 campaign which saw him lead the Firebirds to their first NCAA Division II Tournament berth in 25 years. Don't read too much into that however as Ruland is looking to replace his top 3 scorers from a year ago who accounted for over 53 ppg. Ruland will welcome in 5 new faces to the fold to help offset those losses, including 3 transfers from Division I schools.
The Firebirds were picked to finish 2nd this season in the East Coast Conference, but will need to retool their approach this season to hit that mark.
UDC does not possess the height of Villanova's squad, with Dyrek Jones coming in at the tallest player on the roster at 6'8. Jones did finish 4th in the nation with 3.85 bpg last season though. D'Angelo Johnson has transferred in from Western Texas Community College and should help to provide some scoring after averaging over 10 ppg a season ago. Villanova should find room in the low post to operate and dominate on the glass however.
In the backcourt, UDC will likely run out several options, including Brandon Ennis who started a few games last season and should see a bump in minutes. Quasim Jones transferred in from Johnson Community College where he was named a Junior College All-American averaging over 17 ppg. Austin Cooley has transferred in from Niagara where he averaged 4.5 ppg and should see some time as well. Jay Wright will need to be wary of Keith Brooks, who was one of the top snipers for the Firebirds a season ago, making 40.6% of his 3-point attempts.
Keys To Victory
Dominate the paint - Between Mouphtaou Yarou, Maurice Sutton, Daniel Ochefu and JayVaughn Pinkston, 'Nova should have a significant advantage down low. For all their flaws a season ago, they were a great rebounding team and owning that area tonight should effectively keep UDC at bay.
Shot selection - The win over Carleton was a nice step for a young team, but their shooting was awful yet again percentage wise. While we're all hoping this team develops a couple of snipers on the perimeter, launching 25-foot bombs is likely not going to be the easiest way to score against an overmatched UDC squad.
Leadership - UDC has some talent and if Villanova starts slow, this could be a tight game for a little while. Now that Maalik Wayns is gone, who will step up as the leader of this team? It likely needs to be some combination of Tony Chennault, Mouphtaou Yarou and James Bell.
This should be a relatively easy win for a young 'Nova team, but if they're going to be competitive in New York City next week, they'll need to realize some improvement on the offensive end Friday night.
The game will be shown live on 'Nova Nation All-Access starting at 7 pm ET.