Coming off an overtime win against Butler in the Big East Conference opener, the No. 11 Villanova Wildcats gear up to face Providence College at the Pavilion for their conference home opener.
The Friars defeated Villanova twice last season, including a 55-52 victory on the road at the Pavilion 11 months ago in February. But times have changed, the Wildcats have cracked the Associated Press' weekly poll for the first time in years and Providence is lacking a few players.
Nonetheless, winning on the road is never an easy task in any conference, and Head Coach Jay Wright knows what it's like to play on the road already in a tough conference.
"It's tough to win on the road in any conference, it's definitely hard to win on the road in the Big East and it's very hard to win at Hinkle Fieldhouse," noted Villanova head coach Jay Wright. "It was a real test of our mental toughness. That's what I was really impressed about with our guys. You've got to maintain that.
"Now you've got a hungry Providence team coming in here that I'm sure thought let one slip away against Seton Hall. Our mindset coming in here will be (very) important."
Providence will still be without freshmen Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock who were suspended by the team for the remainder of the season for an undisclosed on-campus incident after being initially suspended on November 6, 2013. Kris Dunn has also missed a piece of the season due to injury. But that hasn't slowed the Friars down on their 10-4 start after a one-point setback against Seton Hall.
Ed Cooley's Friars are paced by Bryce Cotton, a guard that Wright has compared to Butler's Kellen Dunham who lit up the Wildcats for 22 points last week. Cotton averages 19.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists in 14 games with 1.3 steals a contest. Outside of Cotton, the Friars bring a strong core of frontcourt players to round out the balanced attack.
LaDontae Henton, Kadeem Batts and Tyler Harris, a transfer from North Carolina State, combine for 39 points and 20 boards per game, a stat that concerns Wright and has been a concern for the Wildcats all season. A guard-heavy core doesn't always play well against an athletic, forward-laden squad.
"We're (also) concerned with their forwards, their rebounding and their length," stated Wright. "They are so long and athletic. That's going to be a great challenge for us."
Though Villanova (12-1) struggled against Butler in overtime, they've had some time to rebound and focus on their matchup with Providence. Junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston, who scored 22 points four days ago against the Bulldogs, is 33 points away from reaching the 1,000 point mark in his career. Pinkston is leading the team in scoring with 15.8 points per contest.
The Wildcats bring a balanced play style with three players scoring double figures (Pinkston, Bell with 15.5 and Hilliard with 13.7) and rank in the Top-50 in the NCAA in three categories, assists (22nd/16.3 apg), rebounds (36th/40.1 rpg) and points (38th/80.5 ppg).
Hopefully for fans, Villanova won't need overtime two games in a row.