UCLA and Villanova headline a matchup of college basketball blue bloods that have gotten off to interesting starts to the season. This is an important matchup for both teams as they look to build momentum headed into conference play.
TV schedule: Saturday, December 9th, 7:00 pm ET, FOX
Arena: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The Bruins and Wildcats have gotten off to somewhat confusing starts to the year, and I guess with all the new faces on both teams that was somewhat expected. UCLA fought hard in losses to Marquette and Gonzaga, but showed that they were capable of playing with the nation’s best. Then, they struggled to get a 1 point victory against a lowly UC Riverside squad.
Villanova bounced back from an early season loss to Penn with a dismantling of Maryland, Texas Tech and Memphis, while also adding an OT win against North Carolina. They found themselves in the top 25, but have since suffered three straight losses to Saint Josephs, Drexel and Kansas State.
UCLA escaped a scare against UC Riverside on the scoreboard and on the injury report. Sebastian Mack suffered a toe injury in that contest, and is currently day-to-day, but I’d imagine he is going to play on Saturday. In addition, Mick Cronin was out with COVID-19, but he will be back in action as well. Adem Bona knows UCLA has struggled against Villanova in past contests, but he is looking to dominate in this one. The Bruins play with serious tenacity and energy, and I’d expect them to come out angry in this one after their last contest.
Villanova is headed in the wrong direction, and I am not sure how they are going to turn things around. After this game, they start Big East play, and many consider it to be the strongest conference in the nation. In addition, Justin Moore went down with a knee sprain against Kansas State, so is yet to be known when he will be able to return to action. They are better equipped to survive his injury this year than they were last year, but he is still their go-to guy and the main driver of the Wildcats. TJ Bamba, Jordan Longino, Hakim Hart and Mark Armstrong are all capable guards, but they are going to need to step their game up in his absence. Eric Dixon and Tyler Burton will also need to pitch in, but Dixon has already been dominating early on.
While UCLA does have to travel cross country and play in hostile territory in this one, I still believe they have the edge. They struggled against UC Riverside, but they still won the game. All things considered (Mick Cronin being out, Bona being in foul trouble, Mack getting injured), it speaks to who they are as a team that they were able to pull that one out. Villanova is in more of an identity crisis right now, and losing one of their best players doesn’t help that. Even though they’re at home, I think Villanova will struggle with continuity and confidence in this one.
Prediction: UCLA 68, Villanova 61