Villanova boasts a triumvirate of leading scorers and rebounders, supported by several role players that give them a solid nine-man rotation.
Manning the front line in the 'Cats three-guard, two-forward attack are Curtis Sumpter (6-7, 220) and Will Sheridan (6-8, 240). Sumter leads the team in both scoring 18.0 ppg) and rebounding (9.0) and has become a leader while steadily improving his offensive game from the middle of last year. Sheridan provides rebounding help (5.3 per game) and inside muscle, but isn't a big scoring threat, averaging just 3.1 points per outing.
The Wildcats have two scorers at guard, with Allan Ray (6-2, 205) and Randy Foye (6-3, 205) tossing in 14.9 and 13.9 points per contest, respectively. Ray is quite efficient, shooting 52.4% from the field (excellent for a guard) while Foye averages five boards per game and paces the team with 22 steals.
The offense is keyed by Mike Nardi, who is not a good shooter, but does posses a solid 2-1 assist to turnover average. WVU will likely back off Nardi a bit and shade toward Villanova's big three on the defensive end.
Off the bench, sometime starter Jason Fraser (6-10, 225) provides 6.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Fraser should be considered a sixth starter, as the Wildcats don't experience any drop-off in talent when he hits the court. A balky left knee has limited his minutes somewhat, but he can't be ignored on either end of the floor. Six-foot, nine-inch Marcus Austin and seven-footer Chris Charles give Villanova a big look that they will also put on the floor at times.
In the backcourt, Kyle Lowry (6-0, 185) figures to get the bulk of the relief work after coming back from a preseason knee injury. He is averaging 5.0 points and 3.0 rebounds per game.
Sally and Sumpter are similar in many ways, and their head to head battle figures to be a key factor in the Big East opener for both teams.
|Wed Jan 5|
WVU 10-0, 0-0
VU 7-1, 0-0
WVU - 23
VU - 78
Both players elevated their level of play during the second half of past season and are now stalwarts on their teams, which they each lead in scoring. Both can slash to the basket and score, and both worked hard on outside shooting during the off-season to become respectable three point threats as well.
The one difference is that Sumpter is part of a three man group that handles the bulk of the scoring lead, while Sally is one of six Mountaineers hovering around the double-digit scoring mark. Other than that, these two players could likely switch teams and fill the other's role admirably.
Sumpter, who carries a bit more weight, uses his size to good advantage. He can post up and score, get to the basket, or step out for the three-pointer. He is also a bit more accomplished on the boards, which is something Sally must be aware of when Nova shots go up.
Tyrone has been in a bit of a mini-slump of late. He had problems holding on to the ball against North Carolina State, but contributed a couple of key scores and rebounds in WVU's big road win. Against Villanova, West Virginia will need more from their senior leader. Sally will likely need to get seven or eight rebounds, score in double figures, and help keep Sumpter off the boards if WVU is to open its conference season with a win.
VU: Michael Claxton (Shoulder) Out, Kyle Lowry (Knee) Probable
Villanova, like WVU, can throw a number of offensive and defensive looks on the floor. The Wildcats start with a smaller lineup, but can go big at the drop of the hat. Like WVU, the Cats feature a big man that can shoot the ball away from the basket, which can cause matchup problems for opponents.
The only thing in question about the Wildcats is their strength of schedule. 7-1 is nothing to sneeze at, but the only thing resembling a quality win to date on the 'Nova schedule is their recent victory over Penn. In many ways, this game will provide a measuring stick for just how good the team from the Philadelphia Mainline is this year.
The best thing to watch in this game figures to be the shifting tactics of each coach as he responds to substitutions and changes by his opponent. Will WVU go to D'or Fischer early when WVU has a height advantage? How will the Mountaineers respond when 'Nova puts a front line of 7-0, 6-10, and 6-8 on the court? Will Villanova be able to defend WVU's shooters on the perimeter with such a lineup? Watch for lots of substitutions and strategy changes as John Beilein and Jay Wright match wits.
While WVU's 10-0 start has been nothing short of amazing, this game might be more important than any of them. Getting off to a 1-0 start in the conference, not to mention putting another road win in the bank, would be a huge start to the Big East season. Losing this game won't be a disaster, of course, but a win would be a perfect start to the league season.
Villanova has been getting it done on the defensive end. The Wildcats lead the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 54 points per game. ‘Nova is also second in field goal percentage defense (.365) and three-point field goal percentage defense (.302).
WVU will test those numbers as no opponent has so far this season.
* * *
In WVU's 10 games this season, the Mountaineers have led by an average of 15 points at halftime. Some of that, of course, speaks to the quality of opponents West Virginia has faced, but WVU has also held halftime leads over LSU, George Washington and North Carolina State.
* * *
Villanova is 167-50 all time in the Pavilion, their on-campus basketball home. Part of their home court advantage in the Pavilion is the cozy atmosphere, as the venue only seats 6,000. WVU won't be subjected to quite the full force of that effect, however, as ‘Nova's students are still on break.
* * *
Both WVU and Villanova are good shot blocking teams, but they get to their totals in different manners.
The Mountaineers, of course, rely on senior center D'or Fischer for their rejection notices. He has 33 of WVU's 57 swats, far outpacing Tyrone Sally, who is second on the team with seven.
‘Nova, on the other hand, has more of a group effort. The Wildcats have blocked the same number of shots as WVU (57) in two fewer games, and have four players who are threats to get a hand on the ball. Jason Fraser (22), Will Sheridan (11), Marcus Austin (9), and Curtis Sumpter (7), lead the ‘Cats in blocks.