Annnnnnnnd we’re back. After nearly a month off due to a holiday break and positive COVID-19 tests, the Villanova Wildcats are scheduled to return to action on Tuesday against the Seton Hall Pirates. While it may seem like starting a new season, 2021’s opening game will instead throw the Wildcats into the middle of races for the Big East title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, both of which they are well-positioned for at the moment.
As Villanova gets ready to enter a sprint to March, get caught up below on where it left off and what lies ahead on Tuesday.
Where things last stood
The Wildcats last played on Dec. 23 — an 85-68 road win at Marquette. It was perhaps the most dominant Villanova had looked all year, and it came against an up-and-down Marquette team that had beaten Wisconsin and Creighton. After early season concerns surrounding the Wildcat bench, the win showed continued proof that the second unit was making serious strides. The three-man tandem of Eric Dixon, Brandon Slater, and Cole Swider totaled 19 points in the victory, including 10 from Slater.
The victory was the sixth-straight win for Villanova after the overtime loss to Virginia Tech in November and pushed its record to 8-1 overall and 3-0 in Big East games. At the time, that landed the Wildcats at No. 5 in the country and alone atop the conference standings. During the layoff, Villanova has climbed to No. 3 overall and maintains a percentage point edge over the UConn Huskies for first in the Big East.
Through nine games, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl leads the team in both points (16.2 ppg) and rebounds (7.2 rpg). He is one of four starters in double figures in scoring, including Collin Gillespie, who has scored at least 18 points in every conference game. All things considered, Villanova was progressing, improving and finding its identity before it hit the break.
Who is available
When Villanova tips against Seton Hall on Tuesday, it’s still a little unclear who will be in uniform. Of the eight rotation players, three seem to be listed as questionable. As of Jan. 14, starters Caleb Daniels and Jermaine Samuels had still yet to be cleared because of COVID-19 testing protocols. Additionally, Daniels was also nursing a calf injury while Dixon had yet to practice because of an Achilles issue. If any of the three players can’t go on Tuesday, the team’s depth will be tested.
However, Villanova will get another body back this week, as sophomore wing Bryan Antoine was cleared to return from a shoulder injury that kept him out of the season’s first nine games. The highly recruited Antoine has played sparingly since enrolling at Villanova in 2019, and while the ceiling is high, any contribution from him would seem to be a bonus this season.
Finally, Class of 2021 wing Trey Patterson announced last week that he would enroll at Villanova for the spring semester. It’s unclear what the Wildcats’ plan for him is this season. However, since the spring semester does not begin until Jan. 25, he will certainly not see any game action on Tuesday.
Scouting Seton Hall
The Pirates come off a brief hiatus of their own, sitting idle for 10 days due to a postponed game against Xavier scheduled for Jan. 16. Their most recent contest was a 76-68 road win against DePaul last Saturday.
In Seton Hall, the Wildcats will play their toughest Big East game of the season to this point. The Pirates are a projected bubble team at the moment and are ranked No. 44 in KenPom. Seton Hall sits at 9-5 overall, including 6-2 in Big East games. As its record indicates, its play has been a little up and down this season. Seton Hall has road wins against Xavier and Marquette, but also has lost to Rhode Island and failed to look competitive in a blowout loss to Creighton on Jan. 7.
In his senior season, Sandro Mamukelashvili has seen his game grow to another level. The 6-foot-11 forward has his scoring average at 18.1 ppg, up from 11.9 ppg a season ago. However, his field goal percentage and three-point percentage are down as he’s faced more defensive attention with Myles Powell no longer around. Guards Jared Rhoden and Myles Cale are the only other Pirates averaging in double figures in scoring. Guard Bryce Aiken is likely out with an ankle injury, and without him the Pirates go about seven players deep.