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Villanova Basketball 2023-24 game preview: Drexel Dragons

Villanova takes on Big 5 newcomer Drexel in the fifth-place game of the Big 5 Classic.

Syndication: Wilmington News Journal William Bretzger/Delaware News Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

It was all good just a week ago.

Just one week after claiming its third Battle 4 Atlantis title, the Villanova Wildcats are now in a fight to avoid finishing in last place of the revamped Philadelphia Big 5.

The Wildcats enter Saturday’s contest with a 6-2 record, with their lone losses coming against Big 5 competition, which dropped them out of title contention and in the bottom of Saturday’s lineup.

Villanova is looking to shake off a 78-65 loss to Saint Joseph’s from earlier in the week. Meanwhile, newly-minted Big 5 team Drexel enters with a 4-3 record. The Dragons lost their Big 5 games in close contests, losing to La Salle, 67-61, in their season-opener, before dropping a 66-64 contest to Temple on Nov. 14.

The fifth-place game will open up the first-ever Big 5 Classic triple-header. The ‘Cats and Dragons are set to take the Wells Fargo Center court at 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.

Here are three things to watch:

Will Drexel follow Big 5 opponents before them and utilize the zone?

There were many takeaways from the Wildcats’ loss to the Hawks on Wednesday night.

Once again, the zone gave Villanova fits, but there were also some uncharacteristic turnovers and subpar offensive execution that also marred Villanova’s momentum.

Drexel will run a slow-paced, half-court style of play, and while it has been shaky offensively, it has actually been one of the better teams, metrically, on the defensive end of the court.

The Dragons rank No. 50 in the country for defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They’ve been solid at protecting the interior, which will be interesting to see how they handle guard post-ups. Drexel has limited opponents to shooting 39.9% inside the arc, which is the eighth-best mark in the country. Their opponents haven’t had much luck at the perimeter either, clamping and limiting opponents to just a 28.9% clip from long range.

Will the Dragons dish out a zone defense to take on the ‘Cats?

One other interesting note about Drexel is that it doesn’t force a lot of turnovers, and ranks in the bottom 40 for defensive turnover rate, so their impressive marks and shooting clips have mostly been from playing straight up defense against their opponents. The Wildcats can’t afford to have another 17-turnover performance and give a team not known for their ball pressure free extra possessions.

Drexel has pretty good size and length across its lineup, which helps them be disruptive. It’s also well-coached in getting guys 1-5 to crash the glass and fight for rebounds. The Dragons rebound at a good clip on both ends of the court, so everyone should be ready to box out.

Diving into the Dragons’ roster

Amari Williams anchors the Dragons on both ends of the floor. He’s a two-way 6-foot-10 forward that leads the squad in scoring and rebounding, while averaging an impressive 2.1 blocks per game. Williams has 13.0 points and 8.1 boards per game.

After Williams, the Dragons like to work by committee. He may be the only player scoring in double figures, but that’s because Drexel likes to rotate and use a deep bench, sometimes going as far as rolling in 10-deep.

Justin Moore, not to be confused with Villanova’s J-Mo, is one of Drexel’s go-to guards. He’s a bit of a volume-scorer though, so his 9.6 points per game (second-highest on the team) is watered down by a 34.7% shooting percentage and 15.0% clip from long ragne.

Lamar Oden Jr. is a feisty 6-foot-6 guard, who’s an all-around contributor. He averages 8.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.

Outside of Williams, it’s hard to distinguish one player to really key on. Williams is undoubtedly their top player, but an indicator of Drexel’s balance is that they’ve had four different game-high scorers throughout their seven-game season, including bench piece Mate Okros, who averages 3.3 points per game but is coming off of an efficient game-high performance where he scored 14 points in a win over Lafayette.

Bounce-back performance for the ‘Cats?

The only thing worse than losing to St. Joe’s, would be going winless in Big 5 play.

The format may be different, but this season is the first time since 2012-13 that Villanova has dropped more than one Big 5 game in a single season.

As good as Drexel may be defensively, it is offensively challenged. The Dragons ranked 245th in offensive efficiency, per KenPom.

Williams is talented inside, but the Dragons don’t have any real perimeter threats and shot just 23.8% as a team from beyond the arc (353rd in the country). They’re also turnover prone, coughing the ball up on 19.3% of possessions, which ranks in the bottom-third nationally.

This could be a get-right game for the ‘Cats, especially after getting shelled from long range by the Hawks. Villanova can’t afford cheap giveaways on offense, but if it can get back to elite-level defense like it has shown before the St. Joe’s loss, it should be in good shape. That will give the ‘Cats a foundation to bounce back from.