You have to time-travel back to the days before Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright had ever taken one of his Wildcat teams to the NCAA Tournament to find a second-game of the season which held a similar combination of importance and potential to provide insight into what prospects the season ahead may hold as does the Villanova match-up with Purdue Monday night in the Gavitt Tip-Off Games.
In 2005, ‘Nova faced Temple in the second game of the season, lost by a point, but went on to make the NCAAs for the first time in the Jay Wright era. Since then, the second game on the Villanova schedule has been some form of warm-up game - a November game geared at getting the team prepared for more competitive games to follow.
Villanova (#4 AP) travels to West Lafayette, In to face Purdue (#15 AP) on Monday night in a game that carries a high level of weight and intrigue. One of the primary concerns for the Cats this season, given the NCAA decision to rule Omari Spellman ineligible to play, is how to best staff the Center position. Three of the primary players in the Purdue rotation bring size and strength to the table - Boilermaker star, Caleb Swanigan, Junior, pivot-man, Isaac Haas and Junior, Vincent Edwards. The Cats pride themselves on defending and rebounding as a team and on “out-toughing” opponents. Mackey Arena is a great home-court advantage for Purdue and they have the physicality and strength to project as a difficult team for the Cats to “out-tough”.
Purdue rolled over McNeese St. in their home opener, 109-65 with Swanigan scoring 23 points and grabbing 20 rebounds. Meanwhile, ‘Nova took Lafayette to task with a dominant 88-48 performance. On Monday night, both teams will learn a lot about where they stand early in the 2016-17 campaign - win or lose.
In addition to being an early test of the ability of the Wildcats to use toughness, quickness, skill and shooting to combat teams with more size, this game serves as an early test of Villanova leadership in the post-Ryan Arcidiacono / Daniel Ochefu era. Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Jalen Brunson will be tested as leaders - tested in regards to their ability to both set the tone in road games and make certain the Cats are playing hard and smart.
Purdue was 26-9 overall last season and 12-6 in the Big 10. The Boilermakers were upset in the first round of the NCAAs by Arkansas-Little Rock. Key personnel losses for Purdue from last season include: Center, A.J. Hammond and guard trio Raphael Davis, Johnny Hill and Kendall Stephens. Key additions include Michigan transfer, Spike Albrecht and Frosh guards, Carsen Edwards and Tommy Luce.
The Purdue front-court is a formidable group that will test the Cats:
Isaac Haas (7-2, 290, Junior): Last year, Haas showed the ability to score in the low post but he needs to improve his rebounding and shot-blocking to adequately back-fill Hammons. Haas averaged 27.4 points per 40 minutes last year. As important as it will be for Villanova to try to deny him the ball in scoring positions it will be similarly important for Haas to try to keep up with the outside scoring ability of Eric Paschall and Kris Jenkins when they take their offense outside while playing the 5-man position for 'Nova. A quick look at his shot chart shows that this very large human, prefers to play in the paint.
Caleb Swanigan (6-9, 250, Soph): Led Purdue with 8.3 rpg last season. Two issues for him last season were shot selection and turnovers. Last season, he formed a formidable high-low tandem with pivot A.J. Hammons. Hammons has moved on and Swanigan will be looking to round out his game and take on a larger role in Purdue’s offensive attack. He projects as one of the top players in the Big 10 this season. Swanigan's shot chart reveals that he tends to do his damage from the middle of the court. Deny him the ball the ball in those straight-away scoring spots and try to force him to the wings off the dribble.
Vincent Edwards (6-8, 225, Junior): Led Purdue in scoring (11.3 ppg) and assists (2.9 apg) last season. Edwards is a do-it-all player with the ability to defend, rebound, pass, and he scores in a variety of ways. Edwards' shot chart illuminates his versatility - he shoots the ball well from deep, from mid-range and at the rim - he will be the focus of plenty attention from the Wildcat defense.
The Boilermaker back-court has some talent and experience but is less tested and experienced playing together than the group up front. The ability of the back-court to play at a high level will ultimately determine the ceiling for this Boilermaker team. One school of thought is that Purdue will have difficulty handling full-court pressure. Though Villanova normally employs a lot of three-quarter court press, it is designed to take time off the clock and make it more difficult for opponents to comfortably set their offense - it is not intended to create a lot of turnovers. That said, 'Nova may employ some full-court press to test the Boilers and try to create some easy transition scoring opportunities off turnovers.
Dakota Mathias (6-4, 200 lb, Junior): A good three-point shooting threat. The question with Mathias is how much can he improve off the bounce. Shot 38.6% from three-point range last season. Mathias is a good deep shooter from across the entire three-point arc. To take him out of his comfort zone, force him to go right - he stays away from mid-range shots - more specifically, mid-range shots from the right side of the court. He is not a great finisher at the rim - shooting only 40% at the basket.
PJ Thompson (5-10, 185, Junior): Averaged 33.6 mpg last season while shooting 41.5% from beyond the three-point line. An analysis of Thompson's shot chart reveals that he likes to take the corner and straight-away three-pointers and/or try to get all the way to the basket. He does not look to score on wing three-pointers or mid-range baskets with much frequency at all. Forcing him to drive it left or right and providing adequate help defense should help keep him away from his bread and butter.
Carsen Edwards (6-0, 190, Frosh): Known as a scorer and passer, this young’n will be looking to fill a major role in the Purdue rotation. He is athletic and quick.
Spike Albrecht (6-0, 180, Junior): He provides the Boiler back-court with a much needed mix of experience, leadership, and play-making ability. Can knock down the three-ball if left unattended. Albrecht, in his Michigan days, was most proficient shooting the three-ball from straight away and on the wings - forcing him to shoot the corner three-ball was generally a successful tactic.
Kenpom isn’t as accurate a predictor of results in November as it is in March but does project this game as a one possession affair. Villanova is predicted as a 76-73 victor with a 61% chance of earning a victory on the game.