Villanova will "host" Lehigh on Friday night in the first ever game at the PPL Center in Allentown, Pa. The home game for 'Nova was scheduled to get Darrun Hilliard the opportunity to play in front of his friends and family (Hilliard attended high school at Liberty in Bethlehem). The game will tip-off at 8pm ET and will be televised on Fox Sports 2.
Many pundits, and even the Wildcats players themselves, have predicted that the 2014-15 version of Villanova will be even better than the previous season, though they might not match the sterling 29-5 (16-2) record. This year, the 'Cats are focused on making an impact in the postseason after early exits in the BIG EAST and NCAA Tournament.
After five straight winning seasons and two trips to the NCAA Tournament (2010, 2012), head coach Brett Reed will be searching for improvement after the team stuttered to a 14-18 (7-11) finish. There's a lot to be excited about for Reed, who will return 4 starters from a year ago. The downside is that he will have to replace all-time program assists leader Mackey McKnight, who also led the team in scoring last season.
Here are the 3 biggest matchups to keep an eye on:
Daniel Ochefu vs. Tim Kempton
Diehard college basketball fans already know Kempton's name after he burst on to the scene to win Patriot League Rookie of the Year after averaging 13.0 ppg and 7.1 rpg. At 6'10" he's got the size to battle for rebounds and apparently worked his tail off in the offseason to lose the baby fat and gain strength.
Ochefu on the other hand recorded double-doubles in both preseason exhibition games. He displayed a refined post game and was a monster on the boards. Unfortunately, the tallest player he faced in either game was 6'7" so it's hard to put a lot of stock in to those games. This is going to be a good opening night look at whether he's taken the next step in his growth.
Darrun Hilliard vs. Austin Price
Price has the size and defensive prowess (1.0 spg) to at the very least bother Hilliard and his offensive arsenal. When Lehigh has the ball, Hilliard will need to keep a close eye on Price though as he was second on the team in 3P% last year at 38%, having attempted over four 3s per outing. Price looks like a prime candidate to increase his scoring output with McKnight's graduation.
So far, Hilliard has looked like a man possessed, doing tons of damage on both ends of the floor in limited action. In front of his hometown family and friends he'll want to leave his mark on the night. The key for him will be controlling that emotion and not pressing too much if things aren't going his way early.
JayVaughn Pinkston vs. Jesse Chuku
There aren't many players in the country that can handle JayVaughn Pinkston offensively, but Jesse Chuku might have a shot. He owns a big frame and moves exceptionally well for his size. Pinkston will still have the edge in quickness, but Chuku could pose him some problems. He averaged 1.4 bpg last year.
Defense hasn't historically been Pinkston's strong suit but he'll need to pay attention to Chuku who shot 35% from beyond the arc last season while attempting almost four 3s per game. Offensively Pinkston would be best served attacking Chuku off the dribble and trying to draw him into early foul trouble. Let's call it the "Halil Kanocevic" plan of attack.