Tonight the Villanova Wildcats will face Drexel in their 7th game of the season. The game will be played at the Pavilion where the Wildcats have won 30 straight games. The only school in the "City 6" that is not a member of the Big 5, there has been some talk that Drexel should be included in the Big 5, particularly after the Dragons defeated three of the four Big 5 teams they played in 2006-2007 (all on the road; they did not play LaSalle), but they are not a member. Those four games games include a win at the Pavilion for the Dragons in the teams' last meeting (Thanks to Chad for the correction!). 'Nova leads the all time series between the teams 17-1. However, Drexel frequently plays other Philadelphia area squads and has already played games against Big 5 members St. Joe’s and Penn. They split those games, losing to the Hawks by 10 in overtime and defeating the Quakers by 9 in regulation. Villanova is Drexel’s final Philly opponent, but not their final opponent that is a potential Final Four contender. The Dragons face the Wildcats of Kentucky on December 21st.
The Dragons are a member of the CAA, the conference that ‘Nova fans will recognize as the Wildcats’ football conference. Noteworty CAA basketball teams include VCU, a squad that sports Larry Sanders who many believe is a future first round NBA draft pick and the team that defeated Duke early in the NCAA tournament a few years ago, the George Mason squad that almost upset our beloved Wildcats earlier this season, and Villanova’s main football rival Delaware who the Wildcats have scheduled for a basketball showdown 12/23 at the Pavilion.
Drexel has started the season a modest 3-4, with wins coming against aforementioned Penn, 0-6 Toledo, a wildly inconsistent Vermont squad that defeated Toledo by 33 compared to a 10 point margin of victory for the Dragons, and defeated a Rutgers squad that took down Drexel for one of its four losses. The Dragons beat Vermont by 13. Losses include aforementioned St. Joe’s in overtime, perennial Big East doormat Rutgers in a tight one by 2, a typically strong Niagara squad that Villanova played last year by 7, and Ivy favorite Cornell also by 7. This tells us that, while Drexel has not played a squad with the talent level of Villanova, this year’s Dragons are accustomed to staying in games till the very end. In the last 4 games, Drexel has been shooting 46.4% from the field compared to 34% in their first 3 games, so they have been much better at getting the rock into the basket recently and they will be carrying that confidence over into this one. Villanova has held teams to a 37.6% field goal percentage over the course of the season and no squad has broke 40.4% shooting against the Wildcats, so we will see who wins the battle of Drexel's hot hands and 'Nova's stifling defense.
This Dragons squad is led offensively by 5’10 junior guard Jamie Harris, who currently averages 17.3 ppg to boast the team’s highest average. He also leads the team in assists per game at 2.9, and grabs just under 2 steals a game to boot. Those 17.3 points are more than double his average of 8.1 last season, while most of his numbers remain the same across the board. It appears Harris is shooting much better from the field (a 6.6% increase over last year) though slightly worse from the free throw line and deep, so while he could be slightly hot the increased numbers are also definitely coming from more attempts, so he seems to be the team’s workhorse offensively. Still, he should be taken seriously from behind the arc and the stripe, as his current averages of 35% and 76.2% are nothing to sneeze at. It seems he is a versatile scorer, with 5 or 6 attempts from the free throw line a game and about 3 threes attempted per game as well, showing a willingness to take contact in the paint but also some shooting range based on his attempts and percentage. It would not be surprising for Jay Wright to throw Corey Fisher and/or Scottie Reynolds along with some Maalik Wayns at Harris to try to slow him down, and the Wildcats have been relatively successful at shutting down opposing teams’ high scoring guards, so we will see if that continues.
Other significant players for Drexel include 6’1 guard Gerald Colds, 6’4 guard Derrick Thomas, 6’8 forward Leon Spencer, 6’8 forward Evan Neisler, 6’5 forward Samme Givens, 6’2 guard Chris Fouch, and 6’9 forward Daryl McCoy. Colds is second on the team in scoring at 11.6 ppg. The junior attempts just under 4 threes a contest but makes just under 30% of them, and does a lot of his scoring inside the arc. He also consistently plays significant minutes, averaging over 30 per contest. Thomas is the team’s third leading scorer at 8.3 ppg as a freshman, playing over 20 minutes in every contest so far this season. He can be prone to taking and missing a lot of threes, but does the majority of his damage from inside the arc. Spencer is the team’s fourth leading scorer and leading rebounder at 8.0 ppg and 6.7 rpg, but has not played in the last 4 games due to what seems to be a significant injury that happened during the Rutgers game and has led to increased play time for some younger bigs. It appears that he will not play in the Villanova game. Neisler is the team’s third leading rebounder at 6.0 per game and sixth leading scorer at 5.6 ppg, he gets some solid playing time as a senior who provides some much needed height but can be prone to foul trouble. Givens sees sporadic minutes as a sophomore but has played more than 10 in every game but one and produces some points to the tune of 5.1 per game. He also plays bigger than his height would indicate as the team’s second leading rebounder at 6.1 per game. Fouch is the team’s fifth leading scorer at 5.9 ppg as a freshman and sees about 20 minutes per game. McCoy, a 270 pound freshman, has seen increased playing time of late and contributes on the boards in his limited minutes, snagging 4.9 a game. As many young big men do, he also has fouled a decent amount in very few minutes.
Drexel’s lack of size really sticks out. Outside of the monstrous freshman McCoy, who could give a generally slender Villanova frontcourt some trouble on the boards at least if he manages to stay out of foul trouble while in the game, no frontcourt players who play significant minutes are over 6’8 or 225 pounds. This should allow the Wildcats to play much better on the class than they did against a bigger LaSalle squad and help make up for some deficiencies in frontcourt depth and rebounding ability. In addition, Drexel’s scoring coming more from backcourt players than anyone else seems to play into the Wildcats’ favor as well. Villanova’s guards have excelled defensively all year, even in the absence of Reggie Redding, so hopefully that will continue against a Dragons backcourt that is not lacking in firepower. On the flipside, with many guards on the floor it is possible that Drexel will not be incredibly turnover prone in this one. Offensively, ‘Nova has a lot of weapons for Drexel to deal with so it will be interesting to see who they attempt to key in on and shut down if anyone. Regardless, the Wildcats should look to get to the stripe in this one as Drexel seems to have a bit of a propensity to foul and ‘Nova will have a size advantage and has converted well from the charity stripe so far this season. Antonio Pena could be a big contributor in this one as well on the offensive end playing against a smaller and generally young frontcourt. As for a couple more guesses: Mo Sutton should have plenty of opportunities for blocked shots, Fish and/or Scottie could get to the stripe at a good clip and convert, and just a gut feeling that Dom Cheek has a strong game building on previous performances. It would also be nice to see Armwood some to try to play big against a smaller squad, but that’s more a hope than a guess.
Given Drexel played Penn relatively close and barely lost to a Rutgers team that generally gets dominated once Big East play comes along, it seems the Wildcats should not struggle with this Dragons squad and could very well hand them their first big loss of the season. However, Drexel has a lot to play for in this one. Not only will they be playing to upset arguably the best team on their schedule and a city rival, but it is also very possible that the Dragons also feel slighted not being permitted to be a part of the Big 5 and that could provide some added motivation as well. Beyond that, they are not accustomed to losing games big, though they have lost more than they have won, so that confidence could lead to them sticking around and making this one interesting at the very least. 'Nova, however, should have some motivation as well to avenge their last loss to Drexel here on their home court with a strong win. Here’s to hoping that happens and Coach Wright’s squad builds on some strong performances against solid teams with a big win before heading down to D.C.
Let’s go Cats!
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