With the Thanksgiving holiday behind us, Villanova looks to close out November by starting up Big 5 play. Just when we thought that the Philly round robin tourney wouldn’t hold any challenges for the Cats, Temple goes and pulls out back to back victories over ranked teams. But instead of playing the red hot owls, Tuesday’s game will be against the room temperature Pennsylvania Quakers.
After four straight games on the road, UPenn will host the Wildcats in their home opener Tuesday night. The Quakers are 2-2 on the season, and are coming off a heartbreaking loss in the final seconds of Saturday’s game at Navy. Even in a road game at the historic Palestra, Villanova will be heavy favorites to keep their perfect season rolling into December. Here’s three things to watch in tomorrow’s game.
Booth’s Boo-Boo Keeps Him Benched
Before the holiday Wright had tabbed starting guard Phil Booth as a maybe for Tuesday’s match-up with Penn. According to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, it now looks like Booth has been ruled out for the Big 5 opener. The injury has been reported as tendinitis in his left knee, so there isn’t really a set time table for his return. Despite this being his 4th missed game in 12 days, Wright remains hopeful that he’ll be back for Saturday’s home game against St. Joe’s.
Mikal Bridges has been the big benefactor of Booth’s absence, getting 3 straight starts and seeing the 2nd most minutes behind team leader Josh Hart. Donte DiVincenzo has also been getting more run at the point guard position as the only other “ball handler” behind Jalen Brunson. One interesting note is that despite injuries to Booth and Tim Delaney, who’s been sidelined with a hip injury since before the Purdue game, freshman center Dylan Painter has only seen the court in blow-out situations at home. He’s clearly a work in progress, but hopefully he’ll be able to earn more minutes soon to help keep the rest of the lineup fresh.
Penn’s Three Pronged Attack
Penn is led this season by a trio of scorers that are all averaging 13+ points per game. To put that into perspective, only Josh Hart is averaging more than 13 a game for the Wildcats (18.2 to be exact). Now sure, Villanova is a much deeper team when it comes to skill and scoring, but if these three can get their shots going at home, they could make a game of it.
Freshman forward AJ Brodeur has been an immediate standout for the Quakers, leading the team in points, rebounds, steals and blocks through 4 games this season. While he plays big, his 6’8”, 225 pound frame shouldn’t be overwhelming for a Wildcat defense that has had to face some behemoths in the post the past two weeks. Because of their athletic disadvantage in the back-court and Nova’s smaller front court, Penn will try to establish him in the post early. If the Cats can keep him contained, it’s going to be a long night for the Quakers.
Junior guard Caleb Wood is Penn’s sharp shooter and will be looking to launch from the perimeter if given the chance. He’s tied with Brodeur as the team’s leading scorer and is shooting a whopping 52% from behind the arc. The good news for Villanova is that he’s also a turnover machine, averaging over 4 per game. If the guards can get pressure on him defensively before he’s able to put up a shot, it could lead to some easy transition baskets the other way.
Senior guard Matt Howard is the third member of Penn’s scoring trifecta. He’s an athletic guard who can slash to the hoop and battle on the boards. He can do a bit of everything as he’s 3rd in scoring, 2nd in rebounds, 2nd in steals, and he’s shooting 50% from deep. But like the rest of the Penn guards, he does have a weakness. Howard, while taking the second most free throws on the team, is just 42% from the line (6-14). I’m not saying Nova will need to adopt a “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy in this one, but if they do, he’s your guy.
A November To Remember
To say that this year’s Senior class has already accomplished a lot in their careers at Nova would be a gross understatement. They’re 3 time Big 5 champions, 3 time Big East champions, Big East Tournament Champions, and oh yeah, National Champions. But even with all of those accomplishments, Tuesday night offers them yet another notch on their belts. With a win at Penn, this class would be the first in the Jay Wright era to go undefeated for their career in the month of November.
Before Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Darryl Reynolds showed up on campus, you’d have to go all the way back to 2010 to find Villanova’s last perfect November. To put it into perspective, a lot of Jay’s best players fell victim to early season losses. Arch and Ochefu had a 3 game losing streak in their freshman November. Pinkston, Bell, and Hilliard had back to back losses to Saint Louis and Santa Clara in 2012. Fisher and Wayns got drubbed by Tennessee the year before, and Scottie Reynolds picked up November losses in consecutive seasons to Xavier and NC State. Even the elite class of Foye, Ray, Sumpter, and Fraser had a crushing defeat in 2004 to Chaminad.
All in all, the class of 2017 has amassed 25 November wins including 5 over ranked teams. To be that good, that early in the season, says a lot to the dedication, hard work, and flat out talent that these players have. A victory over Penn tomorrow would be number 26, and put a perfect cap on a perfect month of what has so far been a perfect season.