The red-hot Villanova Wildcats look to make a statement Wednesday night against the No. 2 ranked Connecticut Huskies. The Wildcats are currently playing their best basketball of the season, while UConn looks like an early Final Four contender.
The Huskies could not have asked for a better start to the season, sitting with a perfect 13-0 record. UConn also competed in the Phil Knight 85th Invitational, although they walked away 3-0 while Villanova walked away 0-3.
UConn defeated two teams who beat the Wildcats at the Invitational, Oregon and Iowa State, by an average margin of victory of 21 points, but their most impressive win was a 15-point victory over then No. 9-ranked Alabama.
After a 2-5 start to the season, the Wildcats have won five straight games since five-star freshman and top-five projected pick in this year’s NBA Draft Cam Whitmore made his debut.
The Wildcats began Big East play knocking off St. John’s 78-63 last Wednesday at the Finneran Pavilion. Villanova ended the first half on a 13-0 run and never looked back, clicking on all cylinders with everyone playing their role.
Villanova looks to continue their momentum as they travel to Hartford, Connecticut in hopes of handing the Huskies their first loss of the season Wednesday night. Ahead of the matchup, let’s highlight a few things to watch out for:
UConn Can Get it Done on Both Ends of the Court
UConn has looked like a national championship-caliber team through their first 13 games of the season. The Huskies have the third-largest scoring margin in the country winning games by an average of 15.6 points per game. Big East preseason player of the year Adama Sanogo has lived up to the hype leading the Huskies averaging 18.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.
The Huskies have an extremely balanced attack with six players averaging more than nine points per game. Jordan Hawkins has taken a huge leap from his freshman to sophomore season; the sharpshooter is averaging 14.3 points while shooting at a 41.5% clip from long range.
As great as the Huskies are offensively, they also take care of business defending and rebounding. UConn has the 12th best scoring defense and seventh best rebounding margin in the nation. In addition to Sanogo’s big body, the Huskies have a 7-foot-2 265-pound freshman, Donovan Clingan, averaging nearly seven boards per game. UConn’s size has been giving teams fits this season.
The sum of all these parts equates to a No. 1 ranking in NCAA’s NET ranking system and a No. 2 ranking in KenPom’s rankings.
Cam Whitmore vs. UConn
Since Cam Whitmore made his Villanova debut December 3rd against Oklahoma, the Wildcats have looked more like the team fans were expecting to see all season. The Wildcats are 5-0 with an average margin of victory of 11.6 points.
While there’s been issues with slow starts, Whitmore has been able to provide a spark off the bench. He’s made an immediate impact upon returning from injury averaging 12.4 points per game and a team-leading 6.2 rebounds. Whitmore’s versatility has allowed the Wildcats to have confidence playing a small-ball lineup when Eric Dixon needs a rest.
The addition of Whitmore has seemingly solidified Villanova’s 7.5-man rotation with Jordan Longino and Whitmore playing key roles and Brendan Hausen playing 5-10 minutes per game off the bench.
His draft stock and potential are unquestioned, but this is an opportunity for him to have that marquee, resume-boosting performance on the road or show his worth to a UConn team that’s riding high.
Death. Taxes. Eric Dixon
Through the ups and downs of the season, there has been one bright spot in every game for the Wildcats this season — Eric Dixon. Dixon’s game continues to take multiple leaps forward over the years, and he has become the trusted scorer the Wildcats need with Justin Moore sidelined with a torn achilles suffered in Villanova’s Elite Eight win against Houston.
Dixon is averaging a team-leading 16.1 points per game, with 6.1 rebounds per game, and is shooting nearly 40% from three while increasing volume significantly from last year. Dixon has scored double figures in all 12 games for the Wildcats this year and can seemingly score at will.
The addition of a right-handed hook this season has made Dixon significantly more difficult to defend. Dixon’s right-handed hook, improved jumper and his added mobility have made him a player the Wildcats can not afford to have on the bench very long.
Dixon had his best game of the season last season against UConn when he dropped a season high in points (24) and rebounds (12) against Sanogo and company.
Villanova and UConn’s Renewed Rivalry Has Been Box-Office
Anytime Villanova and UConn face-off, it is always a great game — this matchup should be the same. Last season the Wildcats and Huskies faced-off three times with the Wildcats winning two of three.
Villanova won the first matchup last season at the Wells Fargo Center by 11 but the final two games were game-of-the-year quality. The final two games were decided by a combined total of five points with the Huskies winning in Hartford, Connecticut and the Wildcats getting revenge in New York City in the Big East Tournament semifinals.
UConn narrowly defeated Villanova 71-69 in Hartford finishing the game on a 6-0 run in the final 21 seconds. The Huskies had a little help from the refs on this “jump ball” that ended up deciding the game:
Between the Hurley T’s and this being a jump-ball, it was an umm, interesting night for the refs.— Matt Eisenberg (@matteise) February 23, 2022
Big win for UConn…but even bigger result for Providence who gains 2 game edge in BE L column. For now, a little breathing room before finale at Villanova https://t.co/ZmAkdtXgPz pic.twitter.com/nQwhHBKaaL
Villanova got the last laugh two weeks later in the Big East semifinals, with Jermaine Samuels leading the way with 21 points and 12 rebounds in a 63-60 win. The game was back-and-forth all night with this monstrous Brandon Slater block acting as the back-breaker for the Huskies:
Man, that Brandon Slater block was something else pic.twitter.com/CKXEyknMNZ— Jay (@novashot21) March 12, 2022
Villanova has won six of the last seven against UConn and will be underdogs heading into Wednesday’s matchup in Hartford. In order for the Wildcats to pull off the upset, they must crash the glass and win the battle of the bigs.