Villanova already had plenty at stake when the Providence Friars will arrive on campus Tuesday evening -- a victory will assure at least a share of the Big East regular season title along with sending off their seniors in the fashion they deserve. Now, courtesy of Providence's newly acquired place in the AP top 25, the Wildcats have the opportunity to secure yet another high quality win in their final push to convince the NCAA Tournament selection that they are worthy of a number 1 seed.
Providence, of course, will happily look to play the role of spoiler. Villanova first met their foe at the tail-end of what was perhaps the Friar's most difficult stretch of Big East play: three consecutive road games at St. John's, Georgetown, and Xavier followed by the home matchup against the Wildcats. And their record showed it. Providence lost three of the four contests, including Villanova's key win on the road, and quickly found themselves in the midst of a bloated Big East middle class.
Yet, following two consecutive victories against Seton Hall and Depaul, the Friars find themselves at 9-5 during conference play and only a half game behind Georgetown for second place. A lethal combination of depth and star power make them a particularly difficult opponent to strategize against.
Let's see what Coach Jay Wright and company might have on the priority list when looking to excommunicate the Friars.
Double Down on Dunn and Henton
Any game plan involving Providence will start and end with their two stars, LaDontae Henton and Kris Dunn. But this is no easy task; each player's skill set compliments the others. While they both undertake "do it all" roles for their team, the manner in which they get the job done varies immensely.
Dunn specializes in an aggressive facilitator type function, similar to what Russell Westbrook has become in the NBA (albeit certainly not to the same degree). The sophomore standout utilizes an effective combination of size for his position and playmaking instinct to fill up the stat sheet like no one else in the conference. In fact, Dunn is fifth in the Big East in scoring per game (15.6 ppg) and fourth nationally in assists (7.4 apg); his 50% assist rate is indicative of how dependent the Friar offense is on their point guard. Where he struggles, relatively speaking of course, is from beyond the arc. Dunn only connects on 34% of his attempts. Villanova, and specifically Dylan Ennis, may be willing to concede the three point shot in order to limit other aspects of his game.
For Henton, there isn't one aspect of the game for the Wildcats to dial in on. The senior has refined his game so that each element, the dribble-drive, three point shot, and post up, are all effective enough to do some serious damage. A low assist rate (6.1%) and still very high usage rate (28.6%), though, may suggest a reluctance to distribute the ball once it arrives in his hands. If this is the case, collapsing and trapping on Henton, similar to Villanova's game Saturday versus Luke Fischer, may be the Wildcats' best avenue towards keeping the Big East's leading scorer in check.
Neutralize the size advantage
The Friar's depth allows them to throw out a variety of looks against opponents. Certain combinations, especially those that include freshman Ben Bentil (6'8") and Paschal Chukwu (7'2"), offer an immense size advantage; this edge materializes in high block and rebound percentages.
Villanova can take this size out of the game, however, by getting it in foul trouble early. Chukwu, Bentil, and center Carson Desrosiers all foul at a rate higher than 4.4 per 40 minutes. Wildcat fans can hope to see JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu involved early and often as forcing the action down low will go a long way in forcing Providence to play down to the home team's size.
Feed the Hot Hand
One of the main complaints early in the season regarding the Wildcats was the apparent absence of a go to scorer. Yet Darrun Hilliard II's last five games, in which he scored at least 15 points in each contest, have gone a long way in dispelling those rumors. Hilliard is now scoring a team high 14.4 points per game.
And while Villanova has relied on its senior captain to pick up the scoring load in recent weeks, they're certainly not relegating themselves to a one man show. Over the last three games in particular, the Wildcats have shown an ability to locate the hot hand, and even more impressively, feed them in a timely manner. Hilliard lit up the scoreboard against Butler. Ochefu and Ennis carried the offensive burden during the latter portion of the first half against Seton Hall last week. And Ryan Arcidiacono connected on three bombs from beyond the arc to start the second half most recently at Marquette.
Much has been said over this team's depth, and rightfully so. Yet, an abundance of talent is not a rare thing in the NCAA. What makes this Wildcat team so special is an ability to take full advantage of theirs. Against the star power of Providence, look for that depth to be on display once again.