Before the season, the New Jersey Institute of Technology basketball program was not a household name among families who paid close attention to college hoops. There's no doubt that Nova fans, coaches, and players did not highlight this game on the schedule from the start of the season. However, after a 72-70 shocking upset over the University of Michigan just about two weeks after the Wildcats' victory over the Wolverines, NJIT has been put on the edge of the collegiate basketball map.
Formerly of the Great West Conference, the Highlanders are the only Division I independent basketball team in the country, and moved from Division III to Division I in 2006. In his seventh season with the program, Head Coach Jim Engles has his team off to a 5-7 start. The win over Michigan was critical for their chances at making a splash this season, and after a few more bad losses, the Highlanders could desperately use a win over the Wildcats.
Early Christmas Feast in the Post
The Highlanders have two players above 6'6", both of whom play under 20 minutes per game. The lack of size on this NJIT team is comical,which means that the guards of Villanova should be able to finish with ease off dribble-penetration or off-ball cuts to the basket.
This should also allow for a plethora of post touches for both Daniel Ochefu and JayVaughn Pinkston. We know what Pinkston can do in the paint; he proved it against Syracuse and won Big East Player of the Week for his performance. Ochefu has demonstrated his continued improvement throughout the beginning of the season, but hasn't had as many post-up opportunities as his Brooklyn partner-in-crime.
As conference play comes around, it would behoove Coach Jay Wright to give Ochefu some added confidence by letting 'The Chef' cook an early Christmas dinner in the post against an undersized NJIT team.
Perimeter Brick Wall
In sports, we've heard the term 'brick wall' to describe NFL defensive lines or the shot-blocking ability of all-time greats like Dikembe Mutombo. Couldn't there be, however, a 'brick wall' that forms along the perimeter?
Indeed, this is what the defense of Villanova basketball is becoming, led by Ryan Arcidiacono. While the causal fan will look at Arcidiacono's pedestrian 29-20-77 spits, it is not his offense that has kept the Langhorne native as the steady point guard of one of America's top teams. Remember his diving steal against VCU that spurred a 22-3 run and led to a Josh Hart and-one? Recall in Saturday's contest against Syracuse when he drew the fourth foul on Chris McCullough to begin the second half? These are the types of plays that have made 'Arci' one of the smartest players in the country.
His composure transcends the offensive side of the basketball. Arci's strong defensive presence serves as an anchor at the top of the key for a lethal defensive unit. While Hart's steals may pad the stat sheet and Pinkston's blocks may make it onto SportsCenter, it is the steady intensity of Arcidiacono which makes the Wildcats an elite basketball team.
Against a lethal guard duo in Damon Lynn and Ky Howard (brother of Villanova assistant Ashley Howard) from the Highlanders, the Wildcats will need their brick wall to continue to stand sturdy atop Nova's potent perimeter defense.
Compare and Contrast
NJIT has played against much of the same competition as Villanova. The Highlanders lost to St. John's by 19, lost to Marquette by five, beat Michigan by two, and will play against Maryland Eastern Shore later on in the season.
Just looking at the difference in scores between all these games, it seems as though these scores indicate, roughly, how each of these teams stand in relation to one another. Michigan is struggling this season, predominately because they are anxiously chucking long-balls like the '06 Phoenix Suns. Marquette has had a few impressive performances, and the addition of Luke Fischer has formed a two headed monstrous Golden Eagle along with the long-range sniper Matt Carlino. It's safe to say that Marquette might be seven points better than Michigan.
As for St. John's, this team is getting into quite a groove. The Johnnie's recently moved up to 17/19 in the polls and replaced Butler as the second ranked team behind Villanova in the Big East. An almost 20-point victory against NJIT makes St. John's 14 points better than Marquette. Given their higher standard above both Marquette and Michigan, this point differential against NJIT seems to make logical sense.
Villanova fans, whose team is expected to blow out the Highlanders, could use this upcoming win as a gauge against a competitive St. John's team. While the team themselves won't likely go into this vague method of comparison, it'll be a fun displacement activity for Wildcat fans excited for the beginning of conference play.