Your Villanova Wildcats are back in action for only their second game in almost two weeks as they kick off Big East play against DePaul at the Pavilion this Wednesday night. The Blue Demons are coming off a loss to Missouri State in the Las Vegas Classic and enter conference play at an unimpressive 7-6. DePaul's best win, if it can even be classified as such, was a win over that same Missouri State team (9-5 MVC, 127th KenPom) earlier this year. In the loss column, DePaul carries an inexplicable loss at home to Horizon League UIC and a 9-point loss to Temple.
The Blue Demons (198th KenPom) are led by senior Billy Garrett Jr. (yes, he's still on the team) and sophomore Eli Cain. DePaul is a relatively small team with 6'7 Tre'Darius McCallum being the tallest player seeing meaningful minutes. DePaul has not faced a team as talented as the Wildcats and boast a sub-150 ranking in both AdjO and AdjD. There is no reason this game should be close but, given it's the conference tip-off and Villanova's been hibernating for two weeks, I suppose anything can happen.
Eli Cain averaged 29.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game against UIC and Chicago State while shooting .629 (22-35) from the field and .611 (11-18) from three-point range. Overall this season, Cain has scored at least 20 points in eight of 13 games and is shooting 40% from deep. However, the past two games have seen Cain average just 5.5 points per game, going 0-8 from three, in 37.5 minutes on the floor.
Despite the slump, Cain is an elusive player who can create scoring opportunities off the dribble. He's prone to turnovers and the Wildcats will look to derail him early in the game. While this game is unlikely to give Cain the video game numbers he's dropped on lesser teams, he's a gifted scorer who ‘Nova will need to account for each time down the floor.
Rise and Shine
Two weeks ago we thanked the schedule gods for the chance to rest and recuperate what had become a thin (and weary) line-up. However, the Wildcats will now play just their second game in two weeks before heading off to Omaha for what is likely to be a (literal) barn-burner on New Year's Eve.
Practices can't simulate live competition and the laugher against American and what may become a laugher against a struggling DePaul team hardly qualify as Creighton primers. Regardless, the Wildcats will be looking to shake-off the cobwebs. While I will stop short of calling DePaul a trap game, with finals over and Creighton on the horizon, we hope to see a more organized and focused Wildcats' team than we saw in the first half against American. Break is over, time to eat.
As conference play begins, the status of junior Phil Booth has become more and more of a concern. Booth hasn't seen the floor since November 17th and missed his ninth straight game when the ‘Cats thrashed American last week. Booth has been suffering from tendinitis in his left knee, which was surgically repaired in the off-season. He's been a "game-time" decision for most of the year and, as Monday's Arizin touched on, the program's position on the injury appears to vacillate.
Best case scenario is that Villanova is being cautious and, given the aforementioned soft spot in the schedule, is withholding him until absolutely necessary (cough Creighton). However, rumors of a medical redshirt, or even a second surgery, seem to be swirling around so it's a mystery at this point.