On Thanksgiving day, probably around the time you're sitting down to dinner, the Villanova Wildcats will take on the Stanford Cardinal in the NIT preseason tip off. Stanford is coming off of a 2014-15 campaign in which they went 24-13, and 9-9 in the PAC-12. The Cardinal also went on to win the NIT at the end of last season, defeating Miami in the championship game.
This year, Stanford is 2-2 and has to deal with the loss of Chasson Randle. They are led by head coach Johnny Dawkins, who is trying to take the Cardinal back to the NCAA tournament, after making the Sweet Sixteen in 2014.
The Wildcats go into this matchup looking to make it five wins in a row, and three preseason tourney championships in a row (Atlantis in 2013 and Legends Classic in 2014). Here are three things to consider for the Turkey Day matchup.
Stanford is a very good shooting team as they're shooting 50.9% from the field, good for 34th in the country. They're led by Reid Travis, who is currently shooting 65% from the field. Rosco Allen is shooting 52% and Christian Sanders is right even with him, hitting 65% of his shots. They've only shot 59 3's on the season about half of 'Nova's total but Rosco Allen, a 6'9" forward from Hungary, is dangerous having hit 50% of his shots from beyond the arc.
Villanova's defense has been pretty good through four games, but there have been a few too many lapses. One large concern is after the opposition gets the ball across half court against the 3/4 court press, they have struggled to find their man. As seen during the first half against Akron and for parts of the Nebraska game, that can result in many open looks. Against a Stanford team with good passers and guys who can hit their shots, lapses like that can result in ending up on the wrong side of the scoreboard quickly.
Come Out Firing
The slow starts for 'Nova this year have been well documented, but the concerns are real. Against ETSU it lasted for 5 minutes, against Nebraska it lasted ten minutes, and versus Akron it was even worse as the Wildcats didn't take their first lead until there was just over one minute left in the half. Luckily, or maybe because they're just that good, the opposition's run has been met by a gigantic run for Villanova to take the lead for good. It will be risky to continue that trend as they face better teams, but they probably can still pull off a large run against Stanford.
As Jay pointed out in his post-game interview, playing at the Barclays Center and against a team with a much bigger name than Akron or East Tennessee State, the guys should be fired up and come out hot.
Be Aggressive and Force Fouls
We know 'Nova loves to shoot the three but this Thanksgiving they'll be facing off against one of the best shot blockers in the country, Michael Humphrey. Last season he only averaged 11 minutes a game, but also averaged one block a game. This season he's seeing a much increased role and you can tell by his block totals. He's averaging 3 blocks a game, good for 8th in the country. His block percentage is 13.2%, meaning he blocks 13.2% of opponents two point field goal attempts while he's on the court.
It might seem counterintuitive to attack him, and it very well could be. However, if the threes aren't falling like they haven't quite yet this season, there has to be a second option. If the Wildcats settle for bad shots because of Humphrey's or take weak layups with him near, there's a good chance he blocks it. 'Nova needs to be aggressive and take it strong to the hoop so Humphrey has to foul, and then end up on the bench.
Villanova is the better team but as we've seen throughout college basketball this year, that doesn't really matter.