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Villanova Basketball 2021-22 game preview: Seton Hall Pirates

It’s a different Seton Hall team this time around.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Seton Hall Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

After weathering the St. John’s Red Storm’s comeback attempt on Tuesday night, the Villanova Wildcats return to action on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center with a rematch against Seton Hall.

These two teams previously met at the Prudential Center on Jan. 1, where the ‘Cats held off an undermanned, but resilient Seton Hall squad to win 73-67.

Saturday’s matinee is set to tip-off at 1 p.m. ET. If you can’t make it to the Wells Fargo Center, it will be on FOX.

Different Seton Hall team

When these two teams previously played, the Pirates were without key big men Tyrese Samuel and defensive stalwart Ike Obiagu, as well as a couple of other players, due to COVID protocols.

Villanova also had its share of quarantine issues back then, when Caleb Daniels was out for his second bout with COVID-19, but the ‘Cats didn’t lose nearly as many players as the Pirates.

At one point late in the game, the Pirates’ makeshift frontcourt fouled out and had to finish the game without any true centers.

The Pirates will have Obiagu, the top shot blocker in the conference at 3.4 blocks per game, and Samuel for Saturday’s game.

Samuel remains a valued big man off the bench, but his level of production hasn’t been the same since returning from COVID quarantine. While Obiagu added an imposing defensive presence, Samuel was more of a scoring option inside, but he’s struggled as of late.

Before quarantine, he was averaging 10.8 points and 6.9 boards. In the nine games since his return, he’s only been averaging 4.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Alexis Yetna and the emerging Jamir Harris have been picking things up for the Pirates off the bench.

Jared Rhoden remains the leading man, and he’s coming off of a 25-point, seven-rebound performance in 73-71 win over Xavier on Wednesday night.

Bryce Aiken, who gashed Villanova for a game-high 22 points in their previous meeting, is questionable for Saturday. He hasn’t played since Jan. 15, but it’s still been a resurgent season for the former Harvard standout, whose time at Seton Hall has been bogged down by injuries.

Overall, Seton Hall is starting to pick things back up again after a rocky stretch through January. The Pirates enter with a three game winning streak.

Physicality and frontcourt punch

Villanova might typically be known for its threes on offense, but the last couple of games paint a different picture. The Wildcats haven’t been afraid to drive inside and take it to their opponents at the basket.

They dismantled the athletic UConn frontcourt, albeit with some help from early foul trouble for the Huskies, but then they put on another repeat performance when they comfortably outscored St. John’s in the paint.

The ‘Cats have been picking up the intensity in this area of the game, and it’s been a welcomed sight. Seton Hall is known for playing the ‘Cats particularly tough, so this should be another grindfest on Saturday afternoon.

Eric Dixon has been on a tear recently, but during this same two-game stretch where the ‘Cats have been feasting inside, he has helped set the tone in the interior. Dixon has a combined 40 points and 19 rebounds throughout the last week, all while shooting 17-of-24 on the floor. His success inside has been contagious for the rest of the ‘Cats.

Now, Seton Hall is back to full strength up front. Can the ‘Cats find success against another solid frontcourt?

Home, Sweet Home?

Villanova and Seton Hall have had their battles since conference realignment, especially at the Prudential Center or in the postseason at Madison Square Garden.

However, home had usually been a safe haven for the ‘Cats, whether it’s at the Pavilion or Wells Fargo Center.

The last couple of meetings have been close, though, with the Pirates actually beating the ‘Cats, 70-64, at the Wells Fargo Center in 2020. Last season, Villanova got back on track on its home court with a 76-74 win.

Before that, it wasn’t even close.

In the six Villanova home games from 2014-19, the ‘Cats enjoyed a double-digit win over the Pirates in five of those meetings. Altogether, Villanova won by an average of 21 points.

Do the ‘Cats go back to steamrolling Seton Hall in the comfort of being back at home, or do the Pirates push them in another battle that comes down to the wire?