Tonight the Villanova Wildcats take on the La Salle Explorers. Jon Rothstein, a college basketball analyst over at CBS Sports, will be calling the game. Jon was generous enough to share his thoughts on the Wildcats thus far, and what is to come.
"There's still a lot of unknowns with this team," he said of the 6-0 start. "They have yet to play a game in a true road environment, and that's something we're going to see tomorrow night vs. La Salle."
Even though Michigan fans were loud last Tuesday, it's won't be the same as tonight's Big 5 atmosphere. While only a few games into the 2014-2015 season, Rothstein believes "there is a lot that is determined with this group. They're a selfless group who is whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. And Ryan Arcidiacono and Darrun Hilliard have not shot the basketball exceptionally well yet. When they get going, they'll be a much harder team to defend."
So far, Jon believes Dylan Ennis will play a crucial role in Wright's system. "You look at Villanova's team last year, a team that won 29 games, they didn't have a guard like Villanova teams have had in the past that could break someone down off the dribble and make their own shot."
Not only has Ennis averaged a steal per game, but he rebounds and shoots consistently too.
"You look at Jay Wright's teams over the years, they've all had guards that manufacture offense- Kyle Lowry, Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, Randy Foye- they seem to have that element in Dylan Ennis."
It is true that the Wildcat defense has carried the team so far this season, and Ennis is one of those men putting the team on his back.
Moving to tonight's game, Rothstein raved about the Big 5 tradition.
"Being around the city the last five, six years I can really see why it's so special, why there's so much history. If you've spent time in Philadelphia, you can really appreciate. It's really something that isn't replicated by any other city when it comes to college basketball."
When it comes to City 6 with the Drexel Dragons, however, he is not as against it as much as the VU Hoops crowd.
"People forget a few years ago Drexel beat Villanova at Villanova, and Syracuse at Syracuse. If you're looking at Villanova's schedule, you know no matter what you're going to play: four Big 5 games, some sort of high-level tournament, a Big East-Big Ten challenge, and now a home-and-home challenge against a team like Syracuse, that's already arduous." It seems like if you just schedule Drexel and not change the name "Big 5" everyone is okay, but it would be nice to see us play all 5 of those schools to expand the tradition, in my opinion.
Besides Villanova, the Temple Owls stick out as a threat in the Big 5 to Rothstein. "What they have showed so far isn't an accurate image of what we'll see in February and March. This team will be much better once Jesse Morgan and Devin Coleman are eligible. They're significantly better defensively. They played really strong defensively against Duke, they just couldn't make shots and had too many turnovers."
In regards to the other teams, Rothstein notes that "as a mid-major, your record has a chance to level out come conference play. "In other words, none of these starts are real benchmarks for the schools' play. As regards to Saint Joseph's, he believes they're "in a transition. Chris Wilson last year was just a three-point shooter, but now he has to be more aggressive. That's the change Phil Martelli's program is undergoing right now."
While currently on a two-skid, Rothstein fears La Salle has a lot to play for. "They had the opportunity to make a national statement against Virginia, and the lost. The next night they had Vanderbilt and lost that, so right now, in order to really make a statement in the non-conference portion on their schedule, they have to win tomorrow night."
As Coach Jay Wright says, all Big 5 games are tough and should not be taken lightly.
With regards to Villanova's gameplan, Rothstein says their PF-C combo in Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack. "They are still getting used to new players getting new prominent roles. People get so construed with where a team is in November/December that they forget that you want to play your best in February and March. La Salle wants to win [tonight] but at the end of the day, they, too, are far from the team last year. There's a lot of different parts."
Jon obviously has a lot of respect for the Explorers and believes they have a lot of potential. Along with the strong front court averaging a combined 15.7 RPG, Jordan Price is the player he believes the Wildcats need to look out for. He is their leading scorer with 17.7 PPG on 54.5% shooting. The Explorers' 3P% is not anything to write home about, however, standing at a poor 25.3%.
While the Villanova's own Daniel Ochefu and JayVaughn Pinkston will need to step up in this game, Jon thinks Josh Hart's performance will guide the `Cats.
"He has the uncanny ability to always win every 50/50 play. When Villanova went to the Final Four, they had Dwayne Anderson who was somebody who you didn't think of as the forefront of the team, but he was someone Wright couldn't take off the floor in terms of his intangibles. I think Josh Hart has the chance to fill the same type of role."
In terms of filling in for James Bell, Rothstein brings up Kris Jenkins in the conversation. "It all comes down to how they pass when they go small. If Jenkins can perform offensively as he had, with extending the defense as he has at the four spot, he gives you the spacing like what you had last year with Bell."
From Jon's recent tweets, one can tell he has noticed the Big East's recent success and has given them a lot of credit. He's even given props to the DePaul Blue Demons who just overtook the Stanford Cardinals. While the early success if promising, he also reminds us that there's too small a sample size to really judge any one player or team. With a tough month ahead for the Wildcats and the rest of the conference, we'll really see what the ceiling is for the new look Big East's second year.
You can follow Jon Rothstein on Twitter: Follow @JonRothstein