The 2009-10 season is here as Villanova opens up again Fairleigh Dickinson on Friday night.
The Knights had a difficult season last year, going 7-23 (6-12). Their season earned them a tie for 9th place in the Northeast Conference, which was not good enough to get a conference tournament bid.
This year, NEC coaches have the Knights pegged to improve somewhat and finish 8th in the conference. One major change for Fairleigh Dickinson this year will be their coach, as Greg Vetrone replaces longtime head coach Tom Green. This is Vetrone’s first head coaching gig after 20+ years as an assistant.
They return 3 starters from last year (some say 4 but it seems like it’s 3 and two part -time starters), including Sean Baptiste, last year’s leading scorer (16.3 ppg) and rebounder (5.9 ppg) and a preseason first team all-NEC selection. Contrary to what his status as the team’s leading returning rebounder would have you believe, Baptiste is a 6’3 guard who excels due to his fearlessness and tenacity. Judging by his shooting percentage from behind the arc (which I’ll get to later) and his rebounding numbers along with what has been written about him, it seems like he does most of his scoring inside the arc and perhaps in the paint. Seems like the player Reggie Redding would be assigned to if he was still around. There has been a lot of talk about Stokes improving as a defender coming into the season so perhaps he will get the first shot at Baptiste; given Baptiste's size any of the team’s 5 guards could probably get a chance to defend him though. However, since Baptiste is the biggest guard that the Knights can throw at the Wildcats it may make more sense to use one of the bigger guards on him.
The team’s other returning starters are forwards Alvin Mofunanya and Kamil Svrdlik. The 6’8 Mofunanya’s name may seem familiar to some hardcore ‘Nova fans as he is actually a transfer from Big 5 rival St. Joe’s. In his first season with the Knights he averaged 9 points per game, was second on the team in rebounding with 5.5 boards per game, shot the highest percentage from the floor on the team at a 51.1 percent clip, and led the NEC in blocks per game with 2 including a season high 9 against St. Peters. Continuing the trend of forwards with fun last names, Svrdlik averaged 6.9 ppg shooting 50.3% from the field along with 1.3 bpg, good for fourth in the NEC.
Other significant players for the Knights could include John Galvin, Terence Grier, and Mike Scott. Galvin was a part time starter last season and, at 6’9, adds more size to a pretty big squad. He contributed 5.9 points per game last year and was third on the team in rebounding at 5.3 a game. Grier is a sparkplug guard who excels at driving to the basket and averaged 7.9 ppg coming off the bench last season, as it seems he will this year. Last but certainly not least, Scott (a Philadelphia native) is a transfer from the College of Eastern Utah who also played a season at TCU. He is a true point guard who started 15 games while playing for the Horned Frogs of Texas Christian and may step into the starting lineup this year to replace last year’s leading assist man Cameron Tyler.
One thing that sticks out about the Knights for their level of play is their size in the frontcourt. They have six players who are listed between 6’7 and 7’2 (the 7’2 player, center Lawrence Brown, seems to rarely play, and the next tallest player on the squad is the 6’9 Galvin), compared to Villanova’s four, making this an interesting first matchup for Jay Wright’s team and a frontcourt many are questioning right now. However, for such a large team, the Knights really seem to struggle to rebound. The first bad sign would be when nobody is averaging more than 6 boards a game, but when your star player and 6’3 guard is leading the team in rebounding that could be a cause for concern. Having two of the conference’s top four shot blockers would seem to indicate more size and athleticism than the rebounding numbers do, so perhaps the numbers are deceptive. Regardless, I would imagine ‘Nova will own the glass in this one.
Fairleigh Dickinson also seems to really struggle shooting the ball from deep. Outside of sophomore Sam Fernley, who made 10 of 20 shots from deep last year (a relatively small sample size) no other player shot higher than 35% from beyond the arc. Next best is the team’s star player, Baptiste, who made 48 of his team-high 140 attempts from downtown, good for a 34.3% clip. Looking at the numbers it seems like the Knights have very little going on from deep that Villanova will have to worry about, unless Baptiste has significantly improved his shot, Fernley is legit and plays more this season, or Mike Scott is a good shooter from deep. I would look for Coach Wright’s squad to focus on cutting off driving lanes and stopping interior play in this one, possibly helping from the perimeter to create turnovers from the FDU bigs, and force the Knights into some low percentage shots from the perimeter.
Also worth noting:
FDU defeated Molloy College, a DII school picked to finish 6th in their conference, by a score of 80-61 in the team’s exhibition game. Baptiste led the team in scoring with 21, Mofunanya and Svrdlik were the only two players in double figures with 12 apiece, and Scott (perhaps a bit of a jack of all trades at guard for the Knights) had 9 points, 6 boards, and 6 dimes.
Despite the Knight’s size in the frontcourt they are small in the backcourt, with the 6’3 Baptiste their only guard who comes in at over 6’0.
Robert Morris, picked to finish 3rd in the NEC compared to Fairleigh Dickinson’s 8th, just lost to Syracuse 100-60. I know you can’t really compare the games, but I’m just sayin’…
Villanova has defeated Fairleigh Dickinson in both games played between the teams since 1980, winning by an average score of 73-57.
Let’s go ‘Cats!!