Villanova’s second game at the season and Big 5 opener will be tonight at the Pavilion against Big 5 rival Penn. The Wildcats are 18-1 in their last 19 Big 5 games and are 39-17 (some sources say 38-18) all time against the Quakers. Jay Wright has won 7 of his 10 games against Penn, and the last Quakers victory came in 2002.
Penn, coming off a 10-8 season (6-8 Ivy), is picked to finish 3rd in the Ivy League this year. They return three particularly key players, including 2008 Ivy League Men’s Basketball Rookie of the Year and last year’s returning leading scorer, junior guard Tyler Bernardini. Last year, the 6’6 Bernardini averaged 13.7 ppg and had a team high 39 made three point shots. He was among the top 10 Ivy League players in scoring, steals, free throw percentage, and three pointer shots made per game last season.
Sophomore 6’1 guard Zack Rosen was last year’s Big 5 newcomer of the year. Last year he led the Ivy League in assists per game (4.96) and assist/turnover ratio (1.99), and was among the top three players in steals per game and free throw percentage. Rosen started more games for the Quakers last year than any other player, and provides a very solid presence at the point guard spot for the Penn squad.
The third key returning player is junior forward Jack Eggleston. The 6’8 frontcourt player led the Quakers in rebounding last year with 5.9 rebounds per game, good for fifth in the Ivy League. He was also top 10 in free throw percentage, blocked shots per game, and steals per game. Each of the three players that Penn expects to lean on this year was consistently good at the free throw line and got a lot of steals, meaning Penn probably will not give away a late lead at the free throw line and seems to create a lot of turnovers.
Penn lost their first game this season to Penn State by a score of 70-55. The Quakers really struggled to contain Taylor Battle, meaning the quicker Villanova guards could give Penn trouble on the defensive end. Given Villanova is arguably the toughest game on the Penn schedule and is a local rival, expect the Quakers to give the Wildcats everything that they have. This does not seem to be a team that will beat themselves and has a good amount of veteran leadership.
The Quakers do not have many incredibly big players with no one taller than 6’9, but boast 12 players 6’6 or taller, so Villanova will have to play relatively big or hope their athleticism allows them to compensate for a lack of height on the defensive end and rebounding if they play small.
Penn definitely could give Villanova a tough game with their experience and ability to convert from the stripe if/when some of the Wildcats younger big men foul, but based on the Wildcats recent history in the Big 5 and against the Quakers, superior talent level, and Penn’s recent loss to a Penn State team that most would agree does not have near the talent that our Wildcats have, I would expect a Villanova victory by a relatively large margin. As Fairleigh Dickinson showed us in the first half on Friday, however, a hungry team with less talent (and some good experience in the case of Penn) can cause these somewhat inexperienced Wildcats problems. Let’s hope Villanova comes out ready for a challenge early and takes a big lead in the first half after a bit of a scare last week, I’m sure Coach Wright has been reminding his players of that first half in the practices since.
Lets go ‘Cats!