Villanova will take a break from the road and return home for a big Saturday night showdown with No. 1 UConn at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Wildcats will look to bounce back from their 87-74 loss to Marquette from Monday night. Villanova enters with an 11-6 record and a 4-2 mark in conference play.
As for UConn, the Huskies are riding in with a six-game winning streak. Since taking a double-digit loss to Seton Hall, UConn hasn’t lost a game in conference play since. The Huskies are 16-2 overall and 6-1 in Big East play.
Saturday’s game is set to tip-off at 8 p.m. ET.
The defending national champs have reloaded
There are some familiar faces from last year’s national championship run, who have elevated their game. Then there are newcomers who have quickly made an impact.
Graduate transfer Cam Spencer is looking like the most valuable transfer in the Big East and the entire country. The former Loyola (Md.) and Rutgers guard currently leads the Huskies in scoring.
He’s had big games against UNC and Gonzaga, and he’s made three or more 3-pointers in nine different outings. Spencer is averaging 15.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game, while shooting 50.5% overall and 46.8% from beyond the arc.
Freshman Stephon Castle has worked his way into the starting lineup, and he’s garnered some buzz for his perimeter defense. Castle played a big role in helping the Huskies clamp down and limit Creighton to just 48 points in their last game.
He’s averaging 9.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game. He seems to be showing flashes of Andre Jackson’s versatile play as a Swiss army knife-type player.
As for notable returners, Tristen Newton recently made the midseason watch list for the Wooden Award, which is given to the National Player of the Year. He’s stepped up his game this year and is one of the top point guards in the country. Newton is averaging 14.9 points, 6.6 boards, 6.1 assists and 1.3 steals per game.
Alex Karaban is still a stretch-big and perimeter threat. He’s averaging 15.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, while shooting 40.2% from beyond the arc.
Sophomore Donovan Clingan has taken the reins as the premier big man, now that Adama Sanogo has graduated. Clingan has returned just in time for the Villanova game, after missing the last few weeks with an injury. The 7-foot-2 big man is averaging 13.3 points, 6.2 boards and 2.0 blocks per game.
V for Villanova, D for Victory
For the ‘Cats to have any chance at a big upset win on Saturday night, there’s no doubt they will have to step things up on the defensive end, especially after getting pummeled by Marquette in a game where they gave up 60 points in the paint to the Golden Eagles.
UConn boasts the No. 3-ranked offense in the country, according to KenPom. The Huskies shoot 59.9% inside the arc, which is the fourth-highest mark in the nation. They also shoot 35.5% as a team from the perimeter, which is good enough for the top 100.
They’re also relentless on the offensive glass, averaging 12.2 offensive rebounds and have the eighth-highest offensive rebounding rate, so boxing out will be a must.
However, you don’t get to be the No. 1-ranked team in the country solely with offense. As good as they are on that end, they’re also solid defensively.
UConn ranks 33rd in defensive efficiency. The Huskies complement their sound interior defense by limiting opponents to shooting just 33.3% from long range.
The Huskies have been able to win in a variety of ways, whether it’s through high-scoring offense, close games, or like their previous outing against Creighton — with hard-nosed defense.
This will be Villanova’s toughest challenge yet, but it will have the comfort of playing at the Wells Fargo Center, where it has enjoyed many big moments over the last decade.