After putting up 100-point performances in back-to-back games, the Villanova Wildcats (3-0) will head down to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis. It is the Wildcats first trip down there since winning the tournament in 2013. Since then, Villanova hasn't lost a mid-season tournament.
The Wildcats tip-off the Battle 4 Atlantis against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (2-1). Western Kentucky has looked good, as it rebounded with a pair of wins after dropping the season opener to Missouri State.
How To Watch, Listen, and Stream
Game Time: Wednesday, November 22, 2017, at 2:30 p.m.
TV: ESPN2 (Karl Ravech, Dick Vitale)
RADIO: 610AM Sports Radio (Villanova), Hilltopper IMG Sports Network (Western Kentucky)
STREAM: WatchESPN (Where Available)
This will be the second meeting between both schools. Villanova won the previous meeting back in the 1971 NCAA Tournament, when the Wildcats upset the Hilltoppers in the Final Four, 92-89.
What to Watch For
Western Kentucky was dogged by the on-again, off-again commitment of Mitchell Robinson. Robinson, a former five-star recruit and McDonald's All-American, was one of the top players in the Class of 2017 and had enough talent to immediately boost any collegiate team he would be a part of. Unfortunately for the Hilltoppers, the saga came to an unfavorable end when Robinson decided at the 11th hour to back out and prepare for the NBA Draft on his own. While he headlined a strong Western Kentucky incoming class, the freshmen bunch remain solid without him. It's still one of Rick Stansbury's better classes in recent history and although four-star gem Josh Anderson and Senegal native Moustapha Diagne still await their fates from the NCAA, the other freshmen have already started making a name for themselves.
Taveion Hollingsworth has gotten the most burn so far, playing the most minutes out of the whole team as a starting guard. Hollingsworth is a pretty good facilitator and does a good job of getting the ball to his older teammates, but he can score on his own too. He's a slasher-type guard that just had his best performance so far--a 24 point (9-of-11 shooting) outing against Nicholls State--going into the Battle 4 Atlantis. Aside from him, Jake Ohmer and Marek Nelson are the sixth and seventh players off the bench--rounding out a narrow rotation. Both are averaging in double figures and are contributing well. They do a great job of blending and supplementing some of the more experienced guys like top scorer Dwight Coleby, junior guard Lamonte Bearden, and Virginia grad-transfer Darius Thompson.
The Hilltoppers are happy to have senior Justin Johnson back, because it almost could have been two tough departures for Stansbury and Co. to deal with this past offseason. The 6-foot-7 forward almost left to play tight end for the school's football team, but decided to come back and hit the hardwood. Johnson is a tough player that mainly likes to attack the basket and score inside, but he is capable to taking his game out to the perimeter and pulling up from there. Johnson is a tough forward, and he's still maintaining his double-double averages. Through three games this season, he's averaging 11.7 points and 11.3 rebounds. A small sample size for sure, but he's a proven capable player. He's nowhere near his great numbers from last season and is off to a slow start offensively--shooting below 40 percent. Last year, he averaged a team-high 14.5 points and 9.4 boards while shooting an impressive 52.3 percent on the floor. Maybe the tougher competition that Villanova will provide will give him a spark to elevate his game back to where it used to be. This is a team that does not rebound well overall, and Johnson is personally holding that average up. He does that and more for the Hilltoppers. He will be even scarier on the court once he finds his groove.
The Best Defense Is...More Offense?
The Hilltoppers aren't one of the best defensive teams around. They're trying to make things work with a seven-man rotation, but with a limited crew to work with, there's bound to be some holes in their game--especially when half of the rotation are made up of freshmen. According to KenPom, Western Kentucky is ranked 242nd in Division I in terms of defensive efficiency. It does a decent job of protecting the perimeter, but has been eaten up inside so far this season. This can be problematic, as Villanova has shown an ability and confidence to be able to attack the basket and get things done in the interior more so now than in years past. With highflyer Eric Paschall and talented redshirt freshman Omari Spellman working down low, the Wildcats are on pace right now to get the largest distribution of points from inside the arc since 2012. Villanova has gotten 48.6 percent of its points from the interior play. With a bulked up frontcourt, it's no surprise that it is looking to go inside a bit more than usual. However, don't be fooled, this is still a team that loves to shoot it up. Maybe once the 'Cats get the inside game going, they'll start to take advantage from long range. Mikal Bridges has been on fire as of late, going a combined 16-of-21 overall and 10-of-13 from deep over the last two games. He's one of Villanova's guys that can take it inside or get the catch-and-shoot and launch from long range.
For Western Kentucky, a team that hasn't been the best defensively, its response will be dialing up the heat and tempo offensively. The Hilltoppers like to play fast and go at an above-average rate. They will look to get many shots up and looks, but in the process might not take great care of the ball (20.8 percent turnover rate). This is a team that excels from beyond the arc (41.4 percent) and getting to the free throw line (highest rate in Division I). Villanova has seen its share of up-tempo teams, like Nicholls State, but Western Kentucky should prove to be more of a challenge than those Colonels.