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Preview: #12 Villanova Wildcats vs. Hartford Hawks

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The ‘Cats are sticking around in Bubbleville for a tilt with the Hawks

The #12 Villanova Wildcats, de facto mayors of Bubbleville, USA, will take on the Hartford Hawks on Tuesday evening. After Villanova’s game against St. Joe’s was cancelled due to a positive COVID-19 test, the team scrambled to find another opponent. Ultimately, the Hartford Hawks, coached by former St. Joe’s guard John Gallagher, agreed to join that ‘Cats at Mohegan.

The Hawks are coming off a loss in their season opener against the UConn Huskies. Last season, Hartford was scheduled to face off against the Vermont Catamounts in the Championship Game of the America East Tournament before the sport was derailed by the pandemic.

Hartford made the jump to Division 1 in 1985 and, since then, the Hawks have only faced the Wildcats once in 2007. Scottie Reynolds dropped 21 in a lopsided Villanova victory in one of the greatest individual performances the sport has ever seen. Hartford is actually 1-29 all-time against current Big East members (yikes) - squeaking out their lone win against UConn in 1986.

NCAA Basketball: Hartford at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Hawks are led by sophomore guard Moses Flowers, junior forward Hunter Marks, and senior guard Traci Carter, who hails from Philadelphia. The 6’3 Flowers dropped 24 points against UConn and pulled down 7 rebounds. However, the young guard committed 5 turnovers. The 6’9 Marks is coming off a strong and efficient game where he went 9-11 from the line and grabbed 9 boards.

As for Traci Carter, the former Marquette and LaSalle guard struggled mightily against UConn, going 1-12 from the field. The 6’0 guard appeared in two games for Marquette against Villanova in the 2015-2016 season, averaging 8.5 in 30.5 minutes per game. When his playing time dropped in the 2016-2017 season, Carter elected to return to the east coast to be closer to his family in Philadelphia. He spent a year at LaSalle before moving to the Hawks last season. Carter started all 33 games last year for the Hawks, averaging 9.7 points and 5 assists per game.

So, what, if anything do the Hawks do well? To start, they have only played one game so it is difficult to learn much from such a small sample size. However, if there is anything this board does well, it is overreacting wildly to small sample sizes.

The Hawks more or less played level with UConn for most of the game last week. Poor shooting from the Huskies prevented UConn from pulling away until late in the second half. Notably, the Huskies shot 5-19 from deep. Now, to the extent you believe in three-point defense, Hartford led the country in three point defense last year. The Hawks were top-100 in steal% and top-35 in eFG% defense. On the flip side, the Hawks had one of the worst offenses in the country last year and was sub-220 in nearly every offensive metric.

Overall, the Hawks play very slowly and, given their anemic offense, rely on their strong defense to get stops. If Villanova can hit some shots early, it is difficult to see how Hartford will be able to keep pace with the ‘Cats. This is shaping up to be a game that will be dictated by Villanova’s offense. If the shots are falling, the ‘Cats should not have any issues.

The game tips off Tuesday evening at 5:00 p.m. on ESPN2.