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Villanova vs. Lafayette Basketball Preview

These aren’t the Leopards of yester-year.

NCAA Basketball: Lafayette at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Villanova Wildcats open the new season on Friday night at the Pavilion. They’ll host a familiar foe in the Lafayette Leopards. Former Villanova Basketball player Fran O’Hanlon is still in charge, but he’s got a tough road ahead of him this season.

After going 6-24 last year, Lafayette was picked 9th in the Patriot League. This looks like it could be another rough year in Easton, Pa.

The two programs met in the 2013 season opener when Villanova got a scare before ultimately pulling away. Villanova beat them by 41 in the first round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament in a result that was much more indicatvie of the talent disparity between the two programs.

Here are three things to watch for on Friday night:

Can Lafayette shoot their way to a close game?

Despite losing five seniors from last year’s team, three of the top four returning scorers are back. Matt Klinewski (13.3 ppg), Nick Lindner (13.3 ppg) and Monty Boykins (10.7 ppg) all averaged double-figures.

Villanova’s defense matches up extremely well with those three and they likely won’t have much room to operate inside the arc. So shot-making will be of the utmost importance for Lafayette.

The bad news? Boykins is the top returning threat from deep and he’s just a 36% shooter there. Paulius Zalys (34%) and Lindner (33%) are the only other two over 30%.

Villanova’s “Death Lineup” makes it grand debut?

Much has been made this offseason of Villanova’s defensive flexibility, and the possible debut of a Golden State Warriors-like lineup that emphasizes spacing and shooting on offense. They certainly have the horses for it, and may need to use it more often with Omari Spellman ineligible.

Given Lafayette’s overall lack of size this will be a safe place to try out a few different combinations. Expect to see plenty of lineups with Eric Paschall or Kris Jenkins as the nominal ‘5’ - and expect to get irrationally excited by the results.

Donte DiVincenzo’s role in the offense

Much of last season’s hype centered around the eventual introduction of Paschall, but DiVincenzo quietly racked up plenty of praise before his injury and even more of it after he got healthy again.

Jay Wright has spent plenty of time on the airwaves raving about him in recent weeks and he didn’t disappoint in the exhibition. But will he be the third ballhandler behind Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth and take on more of a facilitating role, or will he join a deep rotation of wings and pack a scoring punch?

I’m betting on the latter.