The No. 1-ranked Villanova Wildcats (11-0) has their final non-conference game of 2017 on Friday night, and the last game before starting up Big East play.
They will head up to Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, N.Y. for a game against the Hofstra Pride (7-4).
Since a 3-3 start to the season, Hofstra bounced back with a four-game winning streak that ended on Wednesday night.
Tip-off on Friday night is slated for 8:30 p.m.
Here are three things to watch for:
Jay Wright’s Homecoming
1994. After a bunch of assistant coaching gigs at Rochester, Drexel, Villanova, and UNLV—Jay Wright finally got his first spot as a head coach at Hofstra. The Flying Dutchmen (Hofstra's name before changing to the Pride in 2004) had struggled through the 1980s and in the early '90s, but under Wright, it slowly got better and better. Eventually, it became one of the top teams in the America East and in Wright's final three seasons there, they went to a pair of NCAA Tournaments and had one NIT appearance together. He compiled a 122-85 record, before heading to Villanova in 2001, and we all know how that story is going so far. A win on Friday night would be his 397th with the Wildcats. However, before all those victories at the Main Line--national championship and Big East titles included--he started on a struggling Hofstra team before restoring that program to relevancy.
During that seven-year stretch as the Flying Dutchmen’s head coach, he was also given a couple of losses at the hands of the Wildcats. He took his Hofstra team to the Pavilion twice, losing both times. The first, was in 1995, during Kerry Kittles' senior year. Kittles and the 'Cats won via 34-point blowout. In 1997, the Pride reentered the Pavilion and while it wasn't as bad as their last trip, Villanova beat Hofstra again, 86-74. Friday night marks the first time that the Pride and the Wildcats will play against each other in almost 20 years. It will be the first time Wright has faced his former team. It also appears to be a less stressful game for Wright, as he and his 'Cats are heavy favorites.
Hofstra mainly revolves around its cornerstones--Justin Wright-Foreman and Eli Pemberton. These are two guards that have elevated their game in their second season as full-time starters in the Hofstra backcourt. Wright-Foreman went from an afterthought on the bench his freshman season, to a star in the CAA his sophomore year, and now a scoring machine. His 23.1 points per game not only lead the Pride, but it's also the ninth-highest scoring average in Division I. He is capable of scoring from almost anywhere--inside, outside, mid-range--and almost any way: pull up off the dribble, attack the basket, through traffic, and catch-and-shoot. As dangerous as he is when he heats up, he can also be wildly inefficient. In the loss against Manhattan, he was 6-of-19 on the floor, but still finished with 22 points because he gets to the line so often. He's crafty at picking up fouls and converts 76.2 percent of his foul shots at the line. His scoring average might be up, but his shooting percentages have taken a slight dip.
As for Pemberton, he's another big scorer. He averages 17.6 points per game, slightly less than Wright-Foreman. While he has a number of similarities to Wright-Foreman, he's different in that he's able to score a lot and be efficient. Pemberton is not as reckless with his shot selection, making 48.0 percent of his takes on the floor and 44.7 percent from beyond the arc. These are the players to watch for, they'll be doing most of the damage. They'll get a chance to prove they are for real, when they take on the top-ranked team in the country and one of the best defensive teams around.
Apart from them, Hofstra doesn't have any other players averaging double figures, but it does have Rokas Gustys--one of the top rebounders around. The 6-foot-9 big man is primarily used to clean up the glass, but can quietly chip in a 10-point night here and there.
Clear the Benches
Not for a brawl, but for the Villanova walk-ons to get some minutes in this game. On paper, Hofstra plays right into Villanova's strengths. The Wildcats have done a good job thus far of quieting down opponents' top scorers. Aside from Wright-Foreman and Pemberton, the Pride don't really have anyone else to depend on to score in volumes. However, looking at this team as a whole, Hofstra is prone to turning the ball over. It is ranked 314th in the country in offensive steal rate, with 10.6 percent of possessions ending in the opposing team's hands. With the Wildcats' zone press that generates turnovers at high clip, this could be a long night for Hofstra.
On the other end of the court, the Wildcats' team of many different scoring options should be problematic for a Hofstra team that doesn't really play any defense. According to KenPom, the Pride is ranked 241st in terms of defensive efficiency. It is subpar at protecting the three-point line, allowing teams to shoot 36.6 percent from deep (232nd in the country) and an even worse 53.4 percent inside the arc (259th). On top of that, the Pride isn't known for its shot blocking or creating turnovers. So, the 'Cats should be able to do what they want offensively and give them a tough time on defense.