Nebraska plays the #9 Villanova Wildcasts on Tuesday for the Gavitt Tipoff in Pennsylvania. A team with a deep basketball history who makes the NCAA Tournament on a fairly regular basis. I checked in with Chris Lane at our SB Nation counterpart VU Hoops to find out more about this years Wildcats and what is expected from the team this season.
Thanks again Chris for your wisdom on the Wildcats. Also check out the interview I did with them at VU Hoops where you can find out more about the 2015-16 Villanova team.
1: Villanova had a heck of a 2014-15 season and won the Big East regular season, the Big East Tournament, and were beat in the third round of the NCAA Tournament by NC State. What were the feelings about the team at the end of the season?
It was an amazing season and one that fans are split about. On the one hand, the utter dominance in conference was something special and won’t be forgotten. But the way the season ends is typically how you’re left feeling, and in this case it was ugly and bitter. ‘Nova picked the worst time to play arguably their worst game of the season, and even then still had a shot to win it, and couldn’t convert. Jay Wright said he couldn’t watch a replay of the game for months. I don’t know that I ever will.
There’s definitely a sense of redemption among the upperclassmen on the team, and while they’re expected to be the class of the Big East again, they’ve upped the ante on the non-conference schedule in the hopes that they get some March-quality basketball earlier in the season to avoid another early exit...
2: The Wildcats are picked as the top team in the Big East this year and in the top ten in many of the preseason polls. What are the fans expectations for the team this year?
Generally speaking, they’re extremely high again. Anything less than a third straight conference regular season title would be a massive disappointment. Conference Tournaments are always a crapshoot, but since the team got that monkey off their back last season I think the expectation is to win in New York too.The NCAAs are where you’re ultimately measured, and Villanova hasn’t been out of the second weekend since their Final 4 run in 2009. It’s a terrible stat for a team that is regularly very good and in the tournament. If they can’t get to the second weekend, it’s going to be loud again in the off season. Jay Wright is in no sort of job danger, but he needs to find a way to get this talented group back to where they belong in March.
3: Who are some of the players that we should be watching for on Tuesday?
Villanova lost their three best defensive players (Darrun Hilliard is in the NBA, JayVaughn Pinkston is rehabbing for the pros, and Dylan Ennis transferred to Oregon) so you’ll see some new faces but the names you know are still there. Co-Big East Player of the Year Ryan Arcidiacono is back for one last go-round, as is center Daniel Ochefu who finally seems to be getting the national plaudits he deserves.
Josh Hart won the Big East’s 6th Man of the Year & Tournament MVP - the junior looks ready to take the next step and become one of the primary scorers for this year’s team.Oh right, and 5-star freshmen Jalen Brunson. After winning MVP at the U-19 FIBAs over the summer, he looked very good in the season opener and might be the killer ingredient that this group needs to take the next step.
4: What are some of the stronger points on this years team and what areas do you think opponents could take advantage of?
Villanova will once again be one of the best offensive teams in the country, and it all starts with their stellar guard play. The 4-out-1-in offense that Wright has employed relies on good decision making and a willingness to make the extra pass. That frees up good looks (and a lot of 3s) and ‘Nova has some sharpshooters like Kris Jenkins, Hart and Phil Booth that can make you pay quickly. And if the first game is any indication, they’re happy to go inside to Ochefu as well. There aren’t many teams in the country that have a player capable of stopping him 1-on-1, and a double-team will, you guessed it, open up a 3.
Defense is the area of concern this year with the loss of so many veterans, and it was tough to glean much from opening night against an out-gunned opponent. Wright will primarily go man-to-man but seems hellbent on getting some zone looks in too. That’s where Villanova can be exposed (and Fairleigh Dickinson did it for stretches). The young guys like Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo and Mikal Bridges are stilling learning on the fly in their first real action.
Lastly, front court depth always seems to be an issue. Tim Delaney is likely out for the season after hip surgery, which leaves Ochefu as the only proven front court guy. Darryl Reynolds looked very good on Friday night, but the jury’s still out on how far he’s come along. Teams with size can bully the Wildcats inside - but then you’re risking not being able to properly guard them on offense.
5: Nebraska does not have a deep history with its basketball program but has shown some improvement with Tim Miles. What are you thoughts on playing us and what it means to Villanova?
I hate saying it because I’m sure you’re all good passionate fans like we are, but this game was a huge letdown when it was first reported. The Gavitt Games are a great concept matching up very good basketball leagues in what should be a made-for-TV event.
Instead, the Big Ten left two of their best programs (Michigan State & Ohio State) on the sidelines and opted to match Villanova up with Nebraska? How does that make sense in any scenario? I mean, at least give us Penn State, which is close geographically and features a former Jay Wright assistant as head coach.
I know Nebraska regularly plays Creighton, but I think just making that match up a part of this series and giving Villanova the game vs. Indiana made a lot more sense for all involved.
6: Villanova is in it’s third year in the new Big East. What are your thoughts on the new conference structure and what it has meant to a team like Villanova?
I think everyone is still figuring it out. Villanova’s sheer dominance so far has made it look like this league just isn’t hard enough for the program, and there’s probably some credence to that. But programs like Xavier and Butler only appear to be going in the direction of regular Top 25 outfits and Georgetown will figure out consistency again sooner than later. But when you get to the depth of the conference, it seems like they are riding a lot on good coaching, and usually good young coaches get better, more established jobs. That’s a big risk right now.
I think the dream is for Villanvoa to somehow, some way get an invite to the ACC and keep their football at FCS unless Notre Dame were to join, but the extra cut in revenue share just isn’t worth it for the ACC. And even if that invite is on the table, I’m not sure the Villanova administration could get over the Catholic guilt of leaving all their brethren to die to actually pull the trigger on that scenario.
So we have what we have, and winning is good. Make the best of it for now and hope that things work out.
7: Okay, prediction time. What will happen against the Huskers and what will the final score be?
If this game were at Nebraska, I might have some concern due to the long road trip and unfamiliar confines of Pinnacle Bank Arena, but given that it’s in the outdated Pavilion, I think this could get ugly.
It’s still early in the season, so I’m expecting a somewhat sloppy start from both sides that might make you want to change the channel for a bit, but ultimately I think Villanova’s talent and experience takes over and makes this a comfortable double-digit win. Something like 83-66 for the home team.