The No. 8 Villanova Wildcats enter Big East play with an 11-1 record and a nine-day layoff since their last game, against Delaware.
Villanova has already won tough non-conference match-ups against Dayton, Mississippi and Maryland. And the Big East schedule makers did them no favors this season, giving them Marquette, Georgetown, and West Virginia as their home-and-home opponents and scheduling Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse all as road games. So if Villanova makes good on most experts' predictions and wins the Big East, they certainly will have earned it.
As has become their trademark under head coach Jay Wright, the Wildcats play a fast-paced game with a lot of guards who can shoot the ball, run in transition, and play defense. This year's team goes nine deep in the rotation. They're scoring a lot of points – averaging over 83 per game – and shooting a collective 37 percent from beyond the arc.
In addition, they rebound very well for a guard-heavy team, pulling in over 42 boards per game. However, fouling has been an issue, as Wildcats have fouled out of games 10 times this season.
On the floor, Villanova is once again led by senior guard Scottie Reynolds. The former Big East Rookie of the Year is turning in another stellar season, with five 20-point games thus far, including a season-high 25-point effort against Maryland. Reynolds has always been a streaky shooter, and he's currently riding a four-game heater that has him shooting 61 percent from the field (27-of-44) and 57 percent from three (12-of-21). For the season, he is shooting 44 percent from the field (a career high) and 31 percent from the perimeter.
But while Reynolds has been hot, Corey Stokes has been equally cold. The junior has shot a mere 27 percent in his last four games (8-of-30) and 35 percent on the season. Almost two-thirds of his shot attempts have been three-pointers, and half of his three-point makes came in only two games (in which he shot 5-of-10 and 5-of-11, respectively). However, Stokes is shooting a team-best 91 percent from the free-throw line.
The Wildcats' rotation got a big boost with the return of Reggie Redding on December 19. The senior was serving a 10-game suspension following an incident over the summer in which he was caught with marijuana and drug paraphernalia after running his car into a sign post. Redding has started both games since his return. He pulled in nine rebounds in his first game against Fordham, then posted 16 points against Delaware and was instrumental in sparking a 12-0 run that put the game out of reach.
Off the bench, Duke transfer Taylor King has emerged as a solid sixth man, averaging 11.2 ppg and 6.5 rpg. He's been a lights-out three-point shooter, sinking 48 percent (24-of-50) from beyond the arc, and turned in a season best 19 points and 12 boards against Delaware. However, foul trouble has been an issue for King, as he's fouled out of three games already.
Villanova's bench got a bit thinner early in December when freshman Mouphtaou Yarou was shelved indefinitely after testing positive for Hepatitis B. The 6-10 forward from Benin had started the Wildcats' first two games. But they have been getting solid production from another freshman, Philly native Maalik Wayns, who is averaging 6.5 ppg and poured in 12 against Fordham to earn Big East Rookie of the Week honors. Dominic Cheek, another heralded freshman from St. Anthony's (N.J.) Prep, is averaging 5.2 ppg in a supporting role.
So how do you beat such a deep and talented Wildcats team? Only Big Five rival Temple has done it so far, taking a 75-65 decision on December 13. The Owls dominated the second half of that game, shooting 64 percent from the field and holding the Wildcats to 38 percent shooting over the same span. Temple also controlled the glass, winning the rebound battle 34-25 and holding Villanova to only three second-chance points.
To realistically stop Villanova, you have to control the glass, get back quickly in transition, and clamp down heavy ball pressure on the perimeter. And with a severe lack of depth, it will be very difficult for Marquette to do all three on Saturday.
G Scottie Reynolds – SR, 6-2, 190 – 16.7 ppg, 4.0 apg
G Corey Fisher – JR, 6-1, 200 – 13.4 ppg, 4.5 apg
G Corey Stokes – JR, 6-5, 220 – 9.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg
G Reggie Redding – SR, 6-5, 205 – 15.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg (2 games played)
F Antonio Pena – JR, 6-8, 235 – 13.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg
F Taylor King – SO, 6-6, 230
G Maalik Wayns – FR, 6-1, 185
G Dominic Cheeks – FR, 6-6, 185
HEAD COACH: Jay Wright - 9th season