Happy Monday, VUHoops! We are back with our quick preseason previews before the season kicks off next Tuesday. As always, we will have full and in-depth previews for each opponent as the games approach but right now we plan to squeeze content like water from a stone.
The early takeaway from Villanova’s first two weeks of the season is that it is chock full of chances to secure incredibly impressive wins that are likely to age well as the season goes along. The challenge with putting together a non-conference schedule – as we know – is hoping that, when the games come around, the opponents are potential Quad-1 wins. This year, Villanova will face #2 UCLA, #18 Tennessee, and then one of either #19 UNC/#7 Purdue – four Top 25 teams - all before Thanksgiving.
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Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers
Head Coach: Dan Engelstad (3rd season)
Previous Season Record: 12-11, 9-7 NEC — Lost to Texas Southern in the First Four
Key Players: Nanu Opoku, Malik Jefferson, Mezie Offurum
Key Departures: Damian Chong Qui (transferred to Purdue Fort Wayne)
Date: Tuesday, November 9, 4:30 p.m. (Finneran Pavilion)
Preview: Villanova will kick off the 2021-2022 season with a match-up against the Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers at the Pavilion on Tuesday, November 9. The Mountaineers, out of the NEC, made some noise in last year’s conference tournament – upsetting both #1 Wagner and #2 Bryant to punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. While the Mountaineers were ultimately bounced by Texas Southern in the First Four, the team returns most of last year’s squad and has designs on once again challenging Bryant and Wagner for the NEC crown.
As for style of play, this is a great match-up for Villanova. The Mountaineers play at an excruciatingly slow pace and finished #355 (out of #358 teams!) in AdjTempo last year. Led by the 6’9 Opoku, 6’9 Jefferson, and 6’8 Offurum, the Mounties prefer to pound the ball inside and play strong defense on the glass. The Mount finished Top-50 in most of the defensive metrics but was hampered by a predicable and one-dimensional offensive attack. It’s hard to imagine a situation where Mt. St. Mary’s is able to score enough points to beat Villanova, even if the ‘Cats get off to the slow start. If the ‘Cats can establish the outside shot early – and eliminate the Mountaineers strength under the glass – this one will likely be a snoozer.
#2 UCLA Bruins
Head Coach: Mick Cronin (3rd season)
Previous Season Record: 22-10, 13-6 PAC 12 — Lost to Gonzaga in the Final Four
Key Players: Johnny Juzang, Tyger Campbell, Cody Riley, Jaime Jaquez
Key Departures: Jalen Hill, Chris Smith
New Additions: Peyton Watson
Date: Friday, November 12, 11:30 p.m. (ugh) (Pauley Pavilion)
Preview: Jeez, talk about switching gears. After (hopefully) dispatching the Mountaineers, the ‘Cats will hop on a plane, fly 3,000 miles, and take on #2 UCLA in a game that tips off at 11:30pm EST (#VUHoopsAfterDark). If the ‘Cats can escape with a win, it could go unmatched in terms of NCAA Tournament non-con resumes come March.
We all remember UCLA’s Cinderella run last March. The Bruins entered the NCAA Tournament as an 11-seed after an up-and-down regular season that ended with four straight losses. From there, UCLA picked off Michigan St., Alabama, and Michigan en route to the program’s 19th Final Four appearance. Ultimately, the Bruins were clipped by Gonzaga in an epic overtime semi-final game.
Now, Mitch Cronin returns the bulk of his squad and enters the season with sky-high expectations. While you’ll stumble across articles wondering if UCLA is really a Top-2 team or whether their March performance has blinded people as to still-lingering issues, the talent is clearly there.
Obviously, Villanova’s primary concern with be Johnny Juzang who, with Collin Gillespie, was named a pre-season All-American and is the face of this Bruin squad. He’s an electric scorer with the ball in his hands and averaged 23 points per game in the NCAA Tournament last year. Juzang is joined by elite point guard Tyger Campbell and sniper Jaime Jaquez. In sum, this game has been circled on the Wildcats’ schedule since it was announced. While we will delve into the nitty gritty of this one as it gets closer, the ‘Cats have a chance to grab a big time win on a big time stage – all before the season hits its second week!
Head Coach: Kenny Blakeney (2nd season)
Previous Season Record: 1-4 (remainder of season canceled)
Key Players: Steve Settle III, Khalil Robinson, Kyle Foster
Key Departures: Makur Maker
Date: Tuesday, November 16, 6:30 p.m. (Finneran Pavilion)
Preview: So, it is a little difficult to fully preview this match-up given that the Howard Bison only played 5 games last year before the school elected to cancel the remainder of the season. Villanova was actually scheduled to play Howard last year – a game that had gained significant buzz due to the presence of Makur Maker, the highest recruit to ever commit to a HBCU. However, the game never took place and after playing in just two games, Maker was sidelined with a groin injury. He thereafter left Howard and is presently with the Sydney Kings of NBL.
Howard University is a historically black research university located in Washington D.C. Jay Wright has never played Howard but Villanova holds 2-0 advantage over the Bison with the last game coming in 1998. The Bison are coached by former DeMatha Catholic player and Duke national champion (1991) Kenny Blakeney.
Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic
November 20 and 21, 2021
Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut
#18 University of Tennessee Volunteers
Head Coach: Rick Barnes (6th season)
Previous Season Record: 18-9, 10-7 SEC (lost to Oregon State as a 5-seed)
Key Players: John Fulkerson, Victor Bailey, Josiah-Jordan James, Santiago Vescovi
Key Departures: Keon Johnson, Jaden Springer, Yves Pons
New Additions: Kennedy Chandler, Justin Powell
Date: Saturday, November 20, 1:00 p.m. (Mohegan Sun Arena)
Preview: Tennessee’s calling card last year was its smothering defense. The Vols finished the year Top-5 in AdjD and top 30 in nearly every defensive metric. They generated the 13th most turnovers in the country and were top-15 in blocks. Put simply, the Vols defense was lethal within the arc. However, the offense was inconsistent and anemic, which led to up-and-down season with the Vols finishing 18-9 and ultimately being bounced as a 5-seed by Oregon State in the NCAA Tournament.
This year, the Vols have bolstered their offense with 5-star point guard Kennedy Chandler and the addition of Justin Powell, a transfer from Auburn. With Santiago Vescovi shooting from deep, the Vols will look to open up the floor and space shooters. While Tennessee’s defense should still remain a force, the loss of SEC all-defensive player Yves Pons will require an adjustment, especially early in the season. Ultimately, this looks like a game where Villanova benefits from catching Tennessee early in the year as it could shape up to be an impressive win if the ‘Cats can pull it out.
#19 University of North Carolina Tar Heels
Head Coach: Hubert Davis (1st season)
Previous Season Record: 18-11, 10-6 ACC (lost to Wisconsin as an 8-seed)
Key Players: Caleb Love, Armando Bacot, Leaky Black, Kerwin Walton
Key Departures: Walker Kessler, Garrison Brooks, Day’Ron Sharpe
New Additions: Dawson Garcia (transfer from Marquette), Brady Manek (transfer from Oklahoma), Justin McKoy (transfer from Virginia)
Date: Sunday, November 21, TBD (Mohegan Sun Arena)
Preview: Ole’ Roy is gone and the Wildcats will get their first shot at new UNC head coach Hubert Davis should the teams meet in the title game of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic. I think the obvious headline for UNC’s roster this year is the amount of talented transfers that joined the Tar Heels this offseason. All three, specifically Garcia and Manek, project to play big roles this season alongside Caleb Love, Leaky Black, Kerwin Walton, and Armando Bacot.
Tar Heels’ fans have high expectations for Love, who struggled last year in his freshman season, and they hope he can develop into a strong facilitator for Armando Bacot, the 6’10 beast down low. This is another game where Villanova benefits from seeing this team early. With a new coach and three transfers, the Tar Heels will likely have some growing pains early on. However, UNC projects to be fighting with the Duke Blue Devils for ACC supremacy by the end of the year.
#7 Purdue Boilermakers
Head Coach: Matt Painter (17th season)
Previous Season Record: 18-10, 13-6 Big 10 (lost to North Texas as a 4-seed)
Key Players: Trevion Williams, Eric Hunter, Brandon Newman, Sasha Stefanovic, Mason Gillis, Jaden Ivey
Key Losses: Aaron Wheeler
New Additions: Caleb Furst,Trey Kaufman-Renn
Date: Sunday, November 21, TBD (Mohegan Sun Arena)
Preview: While the game against UCLA grabbed the scheduling headlines, this potential match-up against Purdue might be the true gem. Purdue is getting some early buzz as a sleeper national champion pick given the fact that Matt Painter returns nearly every piece of last year’s squad that earned a 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament. ‘Nova fans will recall that the Boilermakers were picked off by North Texas, setting up a match-up with last year’s Wildcats.
Led by 6’10 forward Trevion Williams, the Boilermakers finished Top-25 in AdjO and AdjD last season with impressive wins over Wisconsin and Ohio State (twice). Purdue plays slow (278th) and is not much of a threat from deep. Williams will be a challenge for a Villanova team without Jeremiah Robinson-Earl but, if the ‘Cats can make someone else beat them, they have a shot at a win that will age like a fine wine.