The Villanova Wildcats head to Newark on Wednesday night for a prime-time showdown with conference leaders Seton Hall. The Pirates are currently at the top of the conference with a 2 game lead over Creighton and Villanova. Should the Pirates win on Wednesday, they will clinch the Big East regular season title and a #1 seed in the Big East Tournament. Should Villanova win, Brendan can write you guys another article - I can’t be asked right now.
On paper, the game is nightmare fuel for the Wildcats. Villanova is coming off an ugly, ugly, ugly game against Providence and, with a struggling/injured Collin Gillespie, walking into a rocking Rock on Wednesday night doesn’t sound fun. I will not be in attendance. Sitting next to a random drunk Providence fan on Saturday (who kept criticizing the “ahk” of Bey’s jumpshot) was enough to convince me to watch this game from the comfort of my bedroom.
Let’s start with the obvious: Myles Powell. The 6’2 senior is leading the Pirates with 21.5 points per game and presently shooting just over 40% from the floor. Powell is coming off a 28 point performance against Marquette and has scored under 15 points just four times this season. Powell is second only to Markus Howard in %Shots in the conference and, when he gets hot, he can absolutely demoralize a defense.
Last month, Villanova managed to keep Powell to a “pedestrian” 19 points on 7-16 shooting, which, in my book, was a win. Wednesday will be the Pirates’ Senior Night, with Myles Powell, Quincy McKnight, Romaro Gill, and Asiah Avent expected to be honored before the game.
Myles Powell hardly needs any extra motivation to knock off the Wildcats but, alas, how about we make it Senior Night? And he can clinch the conference crown? And a #1 seed in the Big East Tournament? Sure, why not? All that being said, Powell would not be the first player to put up a “dud” on Senior Night. We have seen emotion and adrenaline backfire on a player but it’s hard to see that happening to a player like Powell.
Even if the ‘Cats (or overwhelming emotion) are able to contain Myles Powell, Villanova will have its hands full with Seton Hall’s supporting cast. Last month, Sandro Mamukelashvili and Quincy McKnight tag-teamed the Wildcats and scored a combined 31 points. Mamukelashvili, “Flex Luther,” went 3-5 from deep and pulled down eight boards. McKnight, coming off of what had initially looked like a gruesome knee injury, struggled from the floor but still managed to nab seven rebounds and go 6-6 from the line. Overall, the Pirates shot 42% from deep against the Wildcats.
As for Villanova, the Wildcats are literally limping to the finish line with a hobbled Collin Gillespie and an offense that is, frankly, offensive. In Saturday’s loss to Providence, the Wildcats shot 35% from the floor including 16% from deep. Six. Teen. The ‘Cats also shot a putrid 50% from the free throw line. Gillespie, who is admittedly dealing with a nagging thigh injury, is 9 for his last 37. He has made one three point shot in his last 16 attempts. Saddiq Bey, coming off a 23-point performance against St. John’s, went 1-7 from three against Providence with three turnovers.
It makes no sense to re-litigate the Providence game at this point. We have to hope a performance to that degree is an aberration. However, some of these issues have reared their ugly head throughout the season. The only consistent thing about the Wildcats’ offense at this point is that it consistently begs for someone, anyone, to step up and carry the team.
This game, an emotionally charged slug-fest in an incredibly hostile environment, is coming at either worst time or the best time depending on how you look at it. On one hand, if you care about regular season titles (I really don’t), it’s not great. The ‘Cats are clearly struggling right now and do not appear to be at their true fighting weight to stave off Seton Hall.
However, on the other hand, maybe this is the type of game that re-energizes a stagnant Villanova offense and helps inject some confidence into the team heading into the Big East Tournament. I have given up trying to predict games this season. Hell, we won at Creighton and knocked off #1 Kansas. Then we shot 16% from three and lost to Providence at home.
At this point, all I am hoping for is a respectable performance. If we do not get blown out, I’ll sleep relatively soundly on Wednesday night. Anything more than that is gravy.