Delaware opened their season with consecutive losses to Ohio and Cornell, but they haven't lost since. There have been a few close games on their five-game streak, a two-point win over Hampton, a three point win over Lafayette, and an 8-point upset of Old Dominion. ODU's only other loss was to a ranked Georgetown team.
Delaware basketball as only had a winning record one time since joining the CAA conference for all sports. Last season they were 7-24 overall and 3-15 in conference play.
This season, Delaware is an experienced team, with 5 starters returning from last year. Senior guard Brian Johnson returns after missing the '09-'10 season, and has played in the last four games. He has averaged 3.8 points, 1 rebound and 1.5 assists in 18.3 minutes. He was a starter two years ago, but has not started a game yet this season after 94 straight starts beginning with his first game at Delaware.
UDel's star, however, is Jawan Carter, a senior guard who has been the Blue Hens' most dangerous shooter from three, hitting 40.7% of his deep shots this season. The 5'11" CAA Player of the Year candidate actually shoots a higher percentage from deep than he does inside the arc. He averages 16 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 steal per game. Without Carter, the Blue Hens don't have another double-digit scorer.
Second on the team in scoring is freshman combo-guard Devon Saddler with 9.4 points per game, 4.9 rebounds and leads the team with 4.1 assists. Saddler is one of the most highly-rated recruits to ever commit to Delaware. He is a skilled scorer, but has not been very accurate from three-point range -- shooting only 11.1% early on. He has connected on over 44.2% of his two-point attempts, however.
Sophomore forward Josh Brinkley is also averaging 9 points per game and 4 rebounds. Brinkley is the Blue Hen's go-to man inside, with a strong body and a tendency to throw around his weight. His best game last season was a 17-point, 8 rebound performance against Towson.
The Blue Hens shoot 32.2% from beyond the arc, but most of that was Jawan Carter. Only two other players (Alphonso Dawson and Brian Johnson) break the 30% mark on deep shots. With three-point shooting being a weakness of the Villanova defense this year, we should watch out for the 'Cats to run some junk defense if Carter gets out of hand, with the triangle-and-2 or a box-and-1 potentially making an appearance.
The Hens would like Johnson to get back to his form from two years ago, to help take some pressure away from Carter. Until he does, however, Carter is the focal point of this Delaware offense.
In seven games, Delaware has averaged 64.9 points per contest. They are an undersized team, and it shows on the boards; they have been out-rebounded by opponents 39.1 - 41.1 per game. They also tend to commit slightly more turnovers than they average in assists (11.1 assists to 12.4 turnovers).
Villanova is still ahead of the game on assist-to-turnover ratio averaging 16.4 assists to 11.6 turnovers per game, and if the 'Cats can keep protecting the ball like that, this game shouldn't be much more than a good tune-up for the season. If they play sloppy on offense, however, this could be another heart-attack game for Jay Wright's team.
Who will emerge as the leader of this Villanova team? While the 'Cats are shooting a slightly better percentage than their opponents so far, the more talented shooters awaiting on the horizon will work hard to change that.
Ken Pomeroy gives the Wildcats a 94% chance to win this game, and predicts a score of 76-60. On the eve of this match-up his calculations rate the Wildcats 22nd overall with a defensive rank of 26th and an offense ranked 27th. Both numbers have been higher this season, and the Wildcats could use an improvement in shot selection as well as improved defensive intensity to pull themselves into serious BIG EAST contention. This game against the Blue Hens of Delaware is an opportunity for Villanova to work on both ends of their game ahead of their December 30th meeting with Temple as well as their January 2nd Big East opener.
The game will tip off from the Wells Fargo Center at 7:30 PM on Saturday and will broadcast live on ESPN3.com.
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