Busting Brackets

Big East Basketball: Wildcats' Keys to Success in classic U'Conn @ Villanova clash

Villanova v U'Conn promises to be a beard-twisting extravaganza for the WIldcat's second-year head-coach
Villanova v U'Conn promises to be a beard-twisting extravaganza for the WIldcat's second-year head-coach / Patrick McDermott/GettyImages

Over the course of Justin Moore’s last four games, his team’s record is 1-3 (w/ him) and the oft-injured Villanova point-guard hasn’t been himself; making 6 of his 27 field-goal attempts and dropping 17 total-points. In the Wildcats’ most recent game, the Golden Eagles of Marquette handed them their 6th loss of the season; taking the ‘Cats to the weight room with 60 paint points. Meanwhile, Justin Moore didn’t shoot enough, didn’t score enough, and turned it over more than enough as the fifth-year guard finished the 13-point loss with 7 shots, 8 points, and 3 turnovers.

On the road (and) against a formidable Big East opponent, Villanova needed its leader to get to work in spite of his lack of game reps lately. Against the top-ranked U’Conn Huskies on Saturday evening at the Wells Fargo Center (in South Philadelphia), Villanova can’t expect themselves to keep pace with the visitors’ superior all-court game unless the heart & soul of their back-court & front-court shows up. Plainly, Justin Moore and Eric Dixon need to play great.

After suffering a foot-injury during U’Conn’s most recent (/second) loss (of their season) to Seton Hall on December 20th, the Huskies’ 7-foot 2-inch center, Donovan Clingan, missed 5 games and made the most of his time off the court by losing 10 pounds; returning to the floor against Creighton in U’Conn’s last game. In a limited run of playing-time, the sophomore big man was impactful on both ends of the floor and his team walked away with a 14-point victory.

For the Villanova Wildcats, Kyle Neptune has to be prepared for David Hurley’s game-plan; and it’s hard imagining U’Conn being indifferent about Clingan’s potential to affect this game. Given ‘Nova’s lack of size on the interior, Hurley is going to want to get the ball inside. In addition to Clingan’s ability to score the ball and pass it from the post, the Huskies’ starting center is a strong rim-protector whose mark of nearly 2 blocks per-game doesn’t tell the whole story in terms of the big-man’s positive impact on defense.

Along with game-planning for Clingan, ‘Nova has to hone-in on the Huskies’, with Tristan Newton, Cam Spencer, and Alex Karaban. Spencer, a 6-foot 4-inch shooting-guard who transferred in from Rutgers and (before that) Loyola-Maryland, is averaging 15.5 points per-game and shooting nearly 47 percent from 3-point range. When U’Conn is playing their best, Spencer is spot-up shooting, Newton is dribble-driving & scoring/dishing, & Karaban is getting done in the paint and on the perimeter.

If the ‘Cats have plans of thwarting the Huskies’ stellar attack; that’s averaging 81.9 PPG and (on the other end) giving up just 64.6 PPG , they can’t turn the ball over on offense and overreact to dribble-penetration on defense. In other words, the Huskies easily put their opponents to-bed when their opponent’s defense is collapsing on drivers who have the ability to make plays for their teammates thru kick-out passes, bounce-passes, alley-oops, and all sorts of high-flying offensive moves that punish defenses who lose men in-rotation. Averaging north of 18 assists per-game, U’Conn has an offense that shares the ball and is content (w/) playing w/ pace or not.

Moreover, U’Conn has one of the nation’s best marks in “rebounding-margin” and will be looking to utilize their height/size advantage on the glass in Philly. Against Marquette, Villanova had its fair share of issues with their defense; especially in-transition and semi-transition. If ‘Nova decides to bring pressure w/ its press-defense against ‘UConn; which it probably shouldn’t, the Cats better be organized or Hurley’s kids are going to make it rain 3’s & all kinds of shots.

Given U’Conn’s size on the interior, Eric Dixon faces an uphill battle; but he must find a way to score when the opportunity presents itself and find a way to involve his teammates if U’Conn doubles him in the post.

Where’s Mark Armstrong? The ‘Cats need you, young fella. With Moore still making his way back from injury, it’s time Mark Armstrong steps up with a big 16-plus point performance in a Villanova upset-victory. Although Jordan Longino is back in the lineup and will provide the Cats w/ extra pop from both a scoring and passing standpoint, odds are the GA product is going to be very rusty; leaving the shot-creation in Nova’s backcourt to Armstrong and Bamba; who has a tendency to drive downhill w/ his head down and on one mission; to get to the basket at all costs. If Hausen plays a lot of minutes in this ball-game (23/24 or more), you’ll know the Cats offense is struggling to score the ball; given Hausen’s disadvantages on defense. Still, when Hausen gets into the game he’s gotta step-up and let ‘em fly early & often.

If Mark Armstrong builds on his previous performances against DePaul and Marquette, the 6-foot 2-inch guard is gonna score at least a dozen points and allow his Cats to push pace and mix-up its looks (w/ it).

On defense, all five Cats need to gang rebound and stay locked in on their assignment; whether that’s a certain player/switch/or area on the court. If two Nova defenders get caught chasing Newton on a dribble-drive, the experienced guard is going to make the Cats pay for it.

Defensively, stick to your man, keep your head on a swivel, and seek-out his body when a shot goes up. Just because Lance Ware (6-9), Eric Dixon (6-8) or Hakim Hart (6-8) is by himself guarding Clingan or another taller Huskies’ player in the post doesn’t mean I have to leave my man to help my teammate guard his.

Offensively, Nova can’t turn the ball over (a lot) ; or they’re going to lose. While Nova does a good job of protecting the basketball via limiting turnovers to about 10 per-game, the Marquette game was a different story and it allowed the Golden Eagles to attack the paint. Nova has to pray it can get buckets in the half-court by leaning on Moore, Armstrong, and Longino, and maybe get an unexpected, 10 plus point lift from either Hart or Hausen.

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The first 4-5 minutes against U’Conn is critical. If ‘Nova finds themselves in an early 8+ point hole, it could be all she wrote. The intensity needs to be consistent all game , and Moore-&-Dixon need to be the guys who set the tone for the rest of their team.

Let’s Go Cats.