Villanova Wildcats (17-4, 7-2) vs. Seton Hall Pirates (16-5, 8-1)
Date: Saturday, Feb. 8
Time: 2:30 p.m.
Location: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pa
The Top Dogs Finally Square Off
The Wildcats and the Pirates have occupied the top two spots in the Big East standings for almost the entirety of conference play. Currently, Seton Hall holds a one game advantage over ‘Nova exactly halfway through the Big East regular season. The two schools have yet to battle against each other, with Saturday marking the first of two late season matchups. For Villanova, Seton Hall is the only team in the Big East it has yet to face, while the Pirates have played every team in the conference aside from Villanova and Creighton at least once. The stakes are high for a game that will prove pivotal in deciding the league’s regular season champion.
Boom Boom Powell
When facing Seton Hall, the first player on the scouting report has to be Big East Preseason Player of the Year, Myles Powell. Now a senior, Powell has continued to dominate, averaging 21.4 points per game, the second highest mark in the Big East. A natural scorer, Powell possesses an exceptional ability to create his own shot and is capable of taking over a game whenever he is on the floor. Powell can seldom be stopped entirely, but Villanova will certainly need to limit his impact as much as possible. The daunting task will likely fall primarily on Wildcat sophomore, Saddiq Bey. As the ‘Cats best on ball defender, Bey is typically assigned the duty of guarding the opposition’s top offensive threat. Bey has handled this duty successfully for the most part, but he did struggle to contain the Big East’s other top guard, Markus Howard, when Villanova fell to Marquette back in early January. If Powell finds similar success to Howard against Bey, look for defensive specialist Brandon Slater to take a turn guarding the Pirates’ top threat.
Defense Wins Championships
Although each team has plenty of capable offensive players, Saturday could make for a rather low scoring affair with conference’s top two scoring defenses going head to head. In Big East play, Villanova leads the league, giving up just 65.4 points per game, while Seton Hall comes in right behind the ‘Cats, surrendering 66.4 points on average. If points are, in fact, hard to come by, any extra possessions for either team will be crucial. Offensive rebounds and turnovers should be at a premium as the two teams vie for as many field goal attempts as possible.
After missing seven weeks with a fractured wrist suffered against Iowa State on Dec. 8., Seton Hall forward Sandro Mamukelashvili finally returned to action against DePaul last week. Although he is still being worked back into the rotation, the 6’11” Georgia native is a versatile big and an excellent perimeter shooter. In his 11 games played this season, the junior is shooting a team best 40% from beyond the arc, and 51.2% from the field overall. Already a dangerous team without their star forward, Seton Hall figures to be even more dynamic offensively with Mamukelashvili back in the lineup.
No Easy Buckets
Scoring inside has proven difficult for Seton Hall’s opponents this season. The Pirates are averaging a league high 6.3 blocks per game and also have the conference’s top individual shot blocker, 7’2” center Romaro Gill. On the year, Gill averages 3.4 rejections per contest, ranking him fourth in all of Division I. Gill, along with Ike Obiagu, the 7’2” transfer from Florida St., form an imposing duo of rim protectors that will likely make things difficult for the ‘Cats in the paint. It will be key for Villanova to not shy away from the basket, especially if the three-point shots are not falling, as was the case in the team’s loss to Creighton this past Saturday. If the Wildcats are able to attack the rim and get the Pirates bigs into foul trouble early, it should bode well for their chances of picking up the victory.
*All stats and information are as of 02/02/2020