Maalik Wayns scored 17 points off the bench and was one of just two Wildcats to score more than 9 points against the USF Bulls in their January 5th meeting at the Pavilion. Wayns also led Villanova on the boards with 5 rebounds. South Florida handed the 'Cats their first and only loss at the Pavilion this season, and the rematch could be even tougher is Wayns is unable to play as he is recovering from an MCL sprain suffered a week ago against Providence.
Wayns is considered "questionable" for the game, but told reporters that he expected to be able to play after spending much of the 7-days-off recovering. If he does play, he might be limited in the game and may not start. He didn't start in the previous contest against the Tampa-based school either, but wasn't experiencing any health issues in that game.
Wayns took part in practices on Monday and Tuesday, but was limited in both.
Dominic Cheek, who played just 15 minutes in the January 5th game figures to play a bigger role in the rematch. JayVaughn Pinkston also figures to play a bigger role, starting regularly and playing over 30 minutes in most conference games so far.
Pinkston has come on strong in Big East conference play with 4 double-doubles and 9 games with 10 or more points recorded since January 1st. His star hadn't burned as bright as it did in his last outing against Providence, however, with 28 points, 14 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks and a steal in the game as he took over near the end to carry the Wildcats in their 19-point comeback win.
The Wildcats may also get a boost from James Bell, who scored in double digits in 5 of the last 6 games and leads the team, making 36.2% of his shots from the perimeter. In the earlier game, Bell played just 5 minutes.
With Wayns potentially out or limited, Ty Johnson will be asked to run the point. That is a significant step back in the scoring department, but when it comes to protecting the ball, Johnson is probably Villanova's best option. He also sports a good wingspan and enough athleticism to do a good job defending in the Big East.
USF's defense has held opponents to just 58.9 points per game and 30.3% shooting from outside. They have quietly become one of the top defensive teams in the Big East. That success has not bled over to the offensive side, however, scoring a league-low 61 points per contest.
Villanova is still sporting a defense ranked 124th in the nation and near the bottom of the Big East conference. Their offense, meanwhile, is ranked 54th in the nation and 7th-best in conference play.
Villanova will need to find an answer for Jawanza Poland, who lit them up for 20 points in the last meeting as well as Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, who scored 10 points, and Blake Nash who had 12, both on 50% shooting from 3. Shaun Noriega continues to be a threat to the Wildcats from deep as well, making his only field goal attempt for 3 in the last meeting and lighting them up in the meeting prior to that.
USF doesn't shoot a high percentage from beyond the arc, just 32.4% overall, but they connected on 40% of those shots at Villanova. They made 46.2% of their field goals in that contest and out-rebounded the 'Cats 36 to 18, with a 9 to 4 edge on the offensive glass. It will be tough for the Bulls to repeat that rebounding performance, however, as the Wildcats are one of the conference's best rebounding teams.
Villanova is third in the Big East in offensive rebounding percentage while the Bulls are fifth.
Villanova isn't expected to win this game, Ken Pom gives them just a 40% chance of knocking off the Bulls in Tampa and USF has been a winner at the Times Forum, going 12-1 there this season. If Villanova has any chance to pull it off, they will need to rebound well — a repeat of the last Nova/USF game won't do — and get offensive production from players who aren't named Maalik. Even if Wayns plays 40 minutes in the game, there is a good chance that he will still be a step behind his usual self as he plays through any residual pain or discomfort from the injury.
If Bell and Pinkston continue their hot-streaks, however, the 'Cats offense could power through this match-up. The question then, is whether the Villanova defense can get enough stops to make it count. If USF starts getting hot from outside, they will need to extend the defense out and deny the shooter. If this game has to turn into a shootout, it would be better to trade 2's for 2's than to trade them for 3's.
The game tips off at 7:00 PM at the Tampa Bay Times Forum and will be broadcast live on ESPN2.