For the second straight season, the Villanova Wildcats will take on a Johnny Dawkins-coached team in an early season tournament. Last year, the Wildcats took down Stanford in the NIT season tip off, and this year they face off against the UCF Knights for the 2016 Charleston Classic championship.
The Knights are 3-0 thus far on the season after defeating Nicholls to start their season and beating Mississippi State and College of Charleston to get to the championship game. UCF was picked to finish eighth in the American Athletic Conference by the coaches.
Here’s three things to watch for on Sunday night:
Tacko Fall, a 7’6” center out of Deakar, Senegal, made waves early on last season when he was originally declared ineligible by NCAA. A #freetacko campaign became very loud and eventually the NCAA gave in and Fall played 30 games in his freshman season. So far in 2016-17 Fall has played terrific, averaging 17 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks. Purdue was a very large team, but Fall has size that nobody on this Villanova team has seen, or will probably ever see again.
It is going to be very difficult, near impossible, for anybody on Villanova to defend Fall once he gets it in the post. The ‘Cats will need to front him as much as possible and swarm the ball handler to make the entry pass difficult. On defense, this is a good test for Josh Hart, Mikal Bridges, and others in terms of finishing in the lane. Through his first games, Fall has blocked 15% of shots faced good for 21st on the country, per Kenpom.
Taking advantage of turnovers
The Wildcats forced double digit turnovers in their first three games, a big part in their success thus far. UCF is a very turnover prone team, giving the ball away 18 and 17 times in the first two games of the Charleston Classic respectively. Per Kenpom, they have a 21% turnover rate. Tacko Fall has been a big part of that, coughing the ball up eleven times already through only three games.
If the ‘Cats can continue to pressure the offense into turnovers, especially Fall, it’ll go a long way towards another win.
Four Championships in Four Years
With a win Sunday night, Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Darryl Reynolds will have never lost a game in an early season tournament. Their freshman year, the ‘Cats made an impressive run through the Battle 4 Atlantis, where they came out ranked in the top 25 and haven’t looked back since. The last two years Villanova has made the trip to the Barclays Center and won the Legends Classic in 2014, and the NIT season tip-off in 2015. If the Wildcats can hold on Sunday, it will be a very impressive feat for the three seniors and show just how far they have come.