The No. 6 Villanova Wildcats head to Providence, Rhode Island on Wednesday night for an 8:00 P.M. showdown with the hungry and dangerous Providence Friars at the Dunkin Donuts Center. The Friars are coming off a disappointing loss to the Xavier Musketeers in Cincinnati where the Muskies proved again they are nearly unbeatable at home.
Here’s three things to watch for in this showdown of classic Big East Conference rivals:
The Wildcats ain't got no Hart. (Maybe.) (Pun Intended.)
News just broke that Josh Hart is sick and will not travel with the team today (2/10). Neal Slotkin tweeted this report, indicating a confirmation from Jay Wright. Hart also tweeted that he was feeling OK. What does this mean for the Wildcats? First, Josh Hart is nearly a shoe-in for the 6th man of the year award in the Big East and he is Villanova's second leading scorer (he has 2 more points than Ryan Arcidiacono). The most glaring point where he might be missed would be in the 'Cats defense as a great matchup against a player like LaDonte Henton, who currently leads the Big East in scoring. Hart's contributions in defensive tenacity and offensive rebounding ability will be most missed against a bigger Providence squad.
This writer has been under the impression that the Friars are one of the toughest match-ups that the Wildcats will see all season. Now, to do it without Josh Hart or with Hart at less than 100% could be devastating. This is a real chance for the Wildcats to show their meddle and step up to the occasion. Hart is getting starter's minutes, at about 25:30 per game. This certainly means increased minutes from Daniel Ochefu, Phil Booth and Kris Jenkins, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Daryl Reynolds see some time as well. The 'Cats would be a different team without him.
There isn't much question about whether Villanova is a tournament team this year. The pressure on the 'Cat's is to be better than last year. To get a #2 seed or better, and get to the second (or third) weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Providence is no lock, at least according to ESPN. This means that the Friars, inspired by a home crowd after three straight on the road, should come out of the gate aggressively feeling the pressure.(Not to mention the sentimentality of Ed Cooley's recent hospitalization).
Villanova starts one of two ways: Ice Cold or Red Hot. The Wildcat's can run up on a team, like they did in taking a 15-0 lead on Creighton 3 weeks ago, or they can get smoked out of the gates like in their loss to Seton Hall where they were down 17-3 early. The Wildcats' defense, for whatever reason, rarely starts producing turnovers during the first 5 minutes of the game, and their offense (due to its dependence on long range shooting) sometimes takes a while to heat up. So the question is for the Friars: Can they come out and hit Villanova in the mouth before the 'Cat's get going?
WHO STEPS UP?
This game has a myriad of players who could explode for big time points. We all know players like Ladonte Henton, Kris Dunn, Ryan Arcidiacono, and Darrun Hilliard can pour them in, but this game has a number of players capable of scoring major points. JayVaughn Pinkston has trouble scoring against taller teams, but Providence, outside of Carson Derosiers, has an inexperienced frontcourt, which should lead to a bunch of free throw attempts for the savvy senior. Dylan Ennis is due. He is so due. Ennis could take advantage of Providence's weakness defensively against wings. If he can penetrate the lane, the young frontcourt will struggle to stop him due to his athleticism.
One member of that frontcourt is Ben Bentil who has been solid lately going for 32 points and 17 rebounds in the last two games and who was heavily recruited by Villanova at one point.