After three “home” games, the Villanova Wildcats are going far from home this week, as they tip off the Battle for Atlantis tournament in Nassau, Bahamas. The first team up for Jay Wright’s band of merry men are the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers of the Conference USA.
The two teams have met once before, with the 17th-ranked Wildcats defeating the 7th-ranked Hilltoppers 92-89 in overtime of the 1971 Final Four (Yeah, it’s been a while). Wednesday’s matchup is not likely to be as competitive of an affair, and it will be the first of three straight days of games for both teams in the tourney. Here are three things to watch for in the game:
In this (brief) season, the Hilltoppers have no one player averaging 15 points or more per game, but seven averaging more than 10. Western Kentucky was expecting to be buoyed by five-star recruit Mitchell Robinson, who originally committed to the school before opting to take a “gap year” between high school and the NBA instead. Despite his departure, the Hilltoppers have gotten solid contributions from other freshmen, including Taveion Hollingsworth, who has already cracked the starting five.
For Villanova, the challenge will be to limit the hot hand for Western Kentucky’s offense, as there is not a single player for their defense to key in on. The leading scorer is senior forward Dwight Coleby, who is averaging 14.7 PPG and 2.3 BPG on 65.4% shooting from the field. Coleby will be playing at home, as he is a native of the Bahamas, so he’ll likely look to put on a show against one of the best teams he’ll play all season. Also keep an eye out for double-double machine Justin Johnson. Johnson could’ve added to the heartbreak the Hilltoppers felt this season, if he followed through with joining the football team, but he’s back. Although he’s not playing at the level he was last year and starting off slow offensively, he’s still averaging over 11 points and boards per game. His 39.4 FG% leaves much to be desired, since he shot well over 50 percent on the floor last year.
A Bridge(s) Too Far
The leading scorer for the Wildcats is jack-of-all-trades wing Mikal Bridges, averaging over five rebounds and three steals per game to go with his 18.3 PPG. Bridges will likely have another favorable matchup against Western Kentucky, as the team only has one player above 6’7” and no one taller than 6’9”. For Bridges, this year has been an opportunity to show his potential in the NBA, and expect him to continue that against Western Kentucky and throughout the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Right now, he’s entering the tournament hot on both ends of the court. Since a slow 2017-18 debut against Columbia, he’s had back-to-back 20-point games against Nicholls State and Lafayette. During this stretch, he’s shot 16-for-21 on the floor and 10-of-13 from deep.
Time to Win?
An interesting tidbit: Every team who has made the finals of the Battle 4 Atlantis has been in either the EST or CST, despite many highly ranked teams from the West Coast participating in the tournament. The long travel times from the West could have an effect on the readiness of the teams, which could spell trouble for second-ranked Arizona. Western Kentucky has only a one hour difference in time as part of CST, so it shouldn’t be a major problem for the school, but watch for this to affect teams in the 2nd or 3rd rounds of the tourney due to the back-to-back nature of the scheduling.
The game tips off at 2:30 PM at the Imperial Arena, and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2.