The No. 12 Villanova Wildcats (8-1) may have found their shooting stroke Sunday night against La Salle, but their loss to No. 3 Oklahoma on Dec. 7th caused them to drop to their lowest rank in the AP poll in nearly 13 months. Now 'Nova travels to Charlottesville to take on the No. 8 Virginia Cavaliers in its second matchup with a top 10 team in as many weeks.
The Cavaliers are led by a player of the year candidate, senior guard Malcolm Brogdon (16.9 PPG, 48/38/79 shooting slash), and are coming off of a 70-54 win over No. 20 West Virginia on December 8th. The 'Cats and Cavs haven't met since the second round of the 2004 NIT, a game Villanova won, though UVA holds a 4-2 advantage in the all-time series. Saturday's showdown is the first leg of a two-game set between the two programs; Villanova will host the game in 2016-17.
Here are three things to keep in mind going into tomorrow's game:
Can Villanova protect the defensive glass?
One area where the Wildcats have struggled this season is limiting opponents' offensive rebounds. Per KenPom.com, Villanova is 267th in offensive rebounding percentage allowed. This is to be expected on some level; the Wildcats' lineups have generally favored senior forward Daniel Ochefu or junior forward Darryl Reynolds holding down the fort while being surrounded by four guards. In extreme (and small) samples, 'Nova has experimented with five-out lineups where Jenkins can work with the ball out of the high post on offense and Mikal Bridges acts as the de facto rim protector on the other end. Barring Ochefu foul trouble, it's unlikely the Wildcats will trot out that super small lineup against UVA, as the Cavaliers rank among the top 18 percent of teams in offensive rebounding percentage. Virginia is one of the biggest teams Villanova has played this year (Stanford and Akron had a higher effective height, though the Cavaliers are far better than either of those two teams), and if the Wildcats don't take added measures to contain second chance opportunities, they could be in for a long afternoon.
Anthony Gill is Virginia's X Factor
While Brogdon is getting some Naismith buzz, senior forward Gill has excelled as a second banana, averaging 13.4 points and 6.4 boards per game (and a team high 130.9 offensive rating) while logging minutes at both power forward and center. Gill was huge in the Cavaliers' game against West Virginia, putting up 20 points on 9-11 shooting and adding 12 rebounds. Virginia's two centers, senior Mike Tobey and freshman Jack Salt, haven't exactly blown away the competition, meaning that Gill has had to slide over and become the nominal center for stretches in a role that Villanova fans might remember being placed on former forward JayVaughn Pinkston's shoulders. In fact, Virginia's most common lineup over the past five games includes Gill at center, flanked by Brogdon, sophomore guard Darius Thompson, sophomore guard Devon Hall, and sophomore forward Isaiah Wilkins, according to KenPom.com's data. Whether he's playing the four or the five, Gill will be called on to handle a lot defensively in addition to being the secondary scorer, especially when matched up on Ochefu or when the Wildcats go small with junior guard Josh Hart at the four. If Villanova can force Gill into wonky assignments and drain him on the defensive end by either battering him with Ochefu or having him chase around smaller players, it will limit his scoring and make slowing down Brogdon and the Cavaliers all the more easier.
Ryan Arcidiacono is off to a hot start
Last season, Villanova senior guard Arcidiacono was slow out of the gates, as a right wrist injury limited offensive game and caused his shooting to crater. Arch shot 33 percent from the field (including 10-44 from behind the arc) in November and December, leading many to question his place in the starting lineup until he turned it on in conference play. This year, Arcidiacono has had no such troubles, Through eight games, the Langhorne, P.A. native has been 'Nova's best offensive player, averaging 12.4 points per contest (second only to Hart) on a 53/42/73 shooting slash line. His 133.4 ORtg is 33rd in the nation, and 4.11 assist/turnover ratio is his best ever. Coming off of a 14-point performance where he was perfect shooting the ball (5-5 from the field, 2-2 from the line), look for Arch to build off of his career best start and to continue to be the guiding offensive presence that the Wildcats have needed during their early season shooting woes.
Villanova scheduled two marquee non-conference matchups as measuring sticks this season. After failing their first test against the Sooners earlier this month, the Wildcats will have something to prove against one of the top programs in the country. John Paul Jones arena is a tough place to win—Virginia has lost there just three times, all to teams ranked 14th or better, over the past two seasons— but a barrage of threes can silence even the rowdiest of crowds. Both teams are in the top five of KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency, so expect a hard-nosed, grind-it-out battle, with the team that adapts to the flow and pace of the game to come out victorious.