It has been a long offseason since the Wildcats’ loss to Baylor in the Sweet 16 on March 27th. However, the long awaited return of Villanova Basketball will commence on Tuesday afternoon against Mount Saint Mary’s.
The ‘Cats finished last season with a record of 18-7 overall and 11-4 in the Big East. The Mountaineers finished the season with a record of 12-11 and 9-7 in the NEC. Mount Saint Mary’s also made the 2021 NCAA Tournament but fell to Texas Southern in the First Four.
Game time is set for 4:30 p.m. (!) and you can watch live on FS1.
The ‘Cats are set to run it back, with everyone reprising their role or prepared to step into bigger ones this season. Jay Wright’s crew is in great position to go deep into March, but will have to find players to step in for Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Cole Swider, the only departures since last season, as well as Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, whose career came to an early end after a series of injuries.
With that being said, other players will need to step up without Robinson-Earl. Expect a heavy dosage of Collin Gillespie, who led the team in assists last season (4.6 per game) but was also second to Robinson-Earl in a number of different offensive categories before going down with an MCL injury. Look for a big impact from Justin Moore, Jermaine Samuels, and Brandon Slater this season. Bryan Antoine, Eric Dixon, and Caleb Daniels should also have expanded roles, and look for Trey Patterson to get solid minutes as well.
As for the actual game vs the Mountaineers, I would expect a decent number of players to see game action. While Mount Saint Mary’s cannot be taken lightly, this is just the appetizer to the main course vs. UCLA on Friday night. Getting out to an early lead should be on the mind of Coach Wright, and letting some of the reserves get some minutes would be a great experience, especially because Villanova’s non-conference schedule is loaded this season.
Mount Saint Mary’s lost a few key players from last year in Jalen Gibbs and Damian Chong Qui. Gibbs opted out of the season after four games due to COVID-19 concerns. Gibbs later announced his transfer to Jacksonville State. Chong Qui finished his senior season averaging 15.1 points per game. The senior took advantage of his extra year of eligibility and transferred to Purdue-Fort Wayne.
Returning for the Mountaineers are Mezi Offurum, Nana Opoku, and Malik Jefferson. Opoku was solid for The Mount last season, averaging 10.1 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. Jefferson was the leading rebounder averaging 7.8 per game for the Mountaineers. Although Offurum did not put up monster numbers, expect him to have an impact in this game. His best game last season came on the road last year at Fairleigh Dickinson where he put up 22 points and took in 13 rebounds.
Deandre Thomas is another player to keep an eye on Tuesday. Another guard who didn’t light up the scoreboard last season, but should be a contributor against the ‘Cats.
The Last Meeting:
The last time these two teams met, it didn’t go so well for Mount Saint Mary’s. The matchup took place in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament in 2017 in Buffalo. Today’s Villanova team looks a lot different than it did during this game. Kris Jenkins, Darryl Reynolds, Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, and Josh Hart were all in the starting lineup that day for the ‘Cats.
The Wildcats only led by one at halftime but exploded in the second half to beat the Mountaineers handily, 76-56. Donte DiVincenzo came off the bench and scored a team high 21 points in the win.
The last time fans were allowed in the Finn for a Villanova Basketball game was on February 26, 2020 vs. St. John’s. When fans left the arena after the ‘Cats 71-60 win, they had no idea it would be their last until November 2021. Having the Wildcat faithful back in the arena will be a pleasant sight, and the official return of Villanova Basketball will be upon us. Seeing the student section rocking at each end of the court for the first time since last year will be a moment nobody will forget. Welcome back Nova Nation, enjoy the ride in 2021-22.