by Mark Mullany
Last time Villanova played the Seton Hall Pirates, the Wildcats picked apart a team that was down two starters, and redshirt junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston became the 57th Wildcat to score 1000 career points.
The game was a blowout with the final score being 83-67, overwhelmingly favoring the ’Cats.
With Kansas, Michigan State and Oklahoma State all losing last Saturday, the ’Cats were able to climb higher up the AP Poll’s top ten.
On top of that, ’Nova won its 22nd Big 5 title by beating Penn, St. Joseph’s, La Salle and Temple for a combined total of 90 points, which is the most in the Big 5’s illustrious history.
On the surface, the Wildcats look unstoppable and should cruise by Seton Hall tomorrow night.
However, the rematch between ’Nova and Seton Hall could be much more challenging than many would expect.
The Pirates have proven themselves as Big East road warriors this season, by winning three conference road games. The only other Big East squads to do that this year are at the top of the standings: Creighton and Villanova.
Two of Seton Hall’s road victories were against teams that were on double-digit winning streaks on their home court.
This past New Year’s Eve, the Pirates opened Big East play on the road against Providence and snapped the Friars’ 13-game home streak in double overtime, 81-80.
Since that game, Providence has improved to third in the Big East standings.
On Jan. 18, Pirates’ starters senior guard Fuquan Edwin and redshirt center Eugene Teague returned from injury to give Seton Hall the 10-point edge over the Georgetown Hoyas, 67-57.
Since the seniors’ return, Seton Hall is 2-1 on the road.
Last weekend, the Pirates proved themselves as a top Big East road team when they beat Xavier on the road, 68-60, breaking Xavier’s 13-home game winning streak.
They forced 13 turnovers and held Xavier to only 14.3 percent 3-point shooting, going two of 14 from beyond the arc.
Sophomore guard Sterling Gibbs and Edwin have handled the scoring load for Seton Hall this season, averaging 14.4 and 14.3 points per game, respectively.
These two guards also get the most minutes per games—Gibbs plays 30.6, while Edwin follows closely with 28.7. Gibbs facilitates the offense by averaging a team-high 4.4 assists.
Teague, who did not play against the Wildcats in the first matchup, is the Pirates’ top rebounder, reeling in close to eight per night, making him the third best rebounder in the Big East.
As a unit, Seton Hall leads the Big East with 7.2 steals per game, and Edwin leads the conference in steals, averaging 3.1 this year.
The Pirates also have the second best three-point shooting percentage in the Big East at 36.6 percent, and are the third highest scoring team with 75.5 per game.
While Seton Hall did not stand a chance against ’Nova in the prior game, the Pirates could only dress seven players and were missing Edwin and Teague.
Head Coach Jay Wright was able to keep his team fresh by making multiple substitutions. This strategy is especially effective because ’Nova has great roster depth.
The Wildcats will lose this game if they let the Pirates get into a groove from stealing the ball and hitting transition 3s.
Also, if Seton Hall can bring the same tight perimeter defense that it clamped on Xavier, it will be able to contend with ’Nova.
What does Villanova need to do beat Seton Hall?
First, the ’Cats have to take care of the ball. If they minimize their turnovers, the Pirates will not be able to get out in transition and sink 3-pointers.
A huge edge ’Nova possesses over Seton Hall is rebounding. The Wildcats are the conference’s second best rebounding team at 38.3 per game, while the Pirates are the Big East’s worst rebounding team.
Especially compared to Seton Hall, Villanova is a much more balanced team. The ’Cats have four players who average double figures in scoring—senior guard James Bell, Pinkston, junior guard Darrun Hilliard and sophomore guard Ryan Arcidiacono.
On the defensive side of the ball, sophomore forward Daniel Ochefu, Bell and Pinkston all share the rebounding load, each averaging roughly six boards per game.
Freshman guard Josh Hart leads the Wildcats off the bench with 8.5 points per game.
Also, redshirt sophomore guard Dylan Ennis has been contributing more points by averaging 9.5 points in the last two games.
Furthermore, the Wildcats are an offensive juggernaut. On most nights, ’Nova is able to put up 80 points, making it the second-highest scoring team in the Big East.
This season, the ’Cats have been held under 75 points only four times this season, and they are undefeated this season when they score at least 70 points.
Seton Hall could challenge ’Nova at the beginning of the contest, but if the Wildcats successfully execute their game plan, they should be able to secure another victory inside the Pavilion.