Wildcats to Play in Hall of Fame Classic

After losing to the No. 2-ranked UCLA Bruins this past Friday, No. 4 Villanova will face nationally-ranked competition once again in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament next weekend. 

Highly-ranked opponents, including No. 7 Purdue, No. 18 Tennessee and No. 19 North Carolina, will participate in the tournament, alongside the Wildcats. For the first game, Villanova is set to take on Tennessee at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 20. Later that day, North Carolina and Purdue square off at 4 p.m.

The winners of the first two games will meet in the championship on Sunday, and the losers will settle for a consolation game that same day. 

The tournament will take place at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, a familiar site for the Wildcats. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Villanova played four games there last season as part of the Bubbleville basketball showcase, posting a 3-1 record in the process. 

Coming into the tournament, Villanova is 2-1 after dominating Mount St. Mary’s and Howard but falling to a talented UCLA team. 

Leading the way for the Wildcats is the trio of graduate guard Collin Gillespie, graduate forward Jermaine Samuels and junior guard Justin Moore. The three lead Villanova in points per game, with Moore most notably averaging 20.5 PPG. If Moore can continue to support the scoring attack normally commanded by Samuels and Gillespie, the Wildcats will have a three-headed monster on offense. 

Junior forward Brandon Slater and redshirt sophomore forward Eric Dixon have also stepped up through the first two games. Slater, who averaged 3.8 PPG last season, is now averaging 13.5 PPG, and his improved shooting has shown that he is more than a defensive specialist. Dixon, who averaged 8.2 MPG and 3.0 PPG last season, has transitioned into a bigger role as well. He is averaging 31.0 MPG and 9.0 PPG, and his increased minutes are paying off for ‘Nova on both ends of the floor. 

But, to win it all in Connecticut, Villanova must first go through a formidable Tennessee team. 

Despite losing their top two scorers and a former SEC Defensive Player of the Year, the Vols have not missed a step. At 2-0, Tennessee cruised past two in-state opponents, and while UT Martin and East Tennessee State are in no way powerhouses, the Volunteers are No. 18 for a reason. 

As one of the best defensive teams in the nation, Tennessee is rated No. 4 overall in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. On offense, the Volunteers are led by freshman guard Kennedy Chandler, who is averaging 20.0 PPG, while shooting 70% from the field. 

Surrounding Chandler are sharpshooting guards sophomore Justin Powell and junior Santiago Vescovi. In the first game of the season, Vescovi hit six three-pointers alone as the Volunteers set a program record with 17 made 3-pointers against UT Martin. If this is a sign of anything, Villanova must continue to defend the arc well in order to avoid a three-point barrage. 

Regardless of whether or not the Wildcats beat Tennessee, they will have more ranked competition in the second game of the Tip-Off Tournament. 

In a rematch of the 2016 NCAA Championship game, Villanova could face North Carolina. Following the retirement of Roy Williams, former assistant coach Hubert Davis now helms the Tar Heels, leading the team to a 2-0 start. 

However, the Tar Heels were not entirely convincing in their victories, as UNC trailed late in the second half against an underwhelming Brown Bears’ squad. Saving the Tar Heels from embarrassment was sophomore guard RJ Davis, who had 26 points in the win. He will be a talent to watch for North Carolina, and along with returning team scoring leader junior forward Armando Bacot and current scoring leader sophomore guard Caleb Love, the Tar Heels could make some noise in Connecticut. 

Even if the Wildcats do not take on UNC, they could still reignite some NCAA Tournament memories, albeit, more painful ones, if they encounter Purdue. 

At 2-0, the Boilermakers steamrolled their first two opponents behind impressive outings from standout guard Jaden Ivey, who is averaging 19.0 PPG and 6.5 RPG. Head coach Matt Painter will look to Ivey to run his offense this year, and Purdue’s success may rely on Ivey’s

ability to do so. Supporting Ivey is senior forward Trevion Williams, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder last season, and senior guard Sasha Stefanovic, Purdue’s best three-point shooter. With a mix of veteran experience and scoring talent, Purdue will be a tough opponent for anyone in the Tip-off Tournament. 

Nevertheless, any team the Wildcats play this weekend will provide a good test for the team and perhaps a better preview of the play they’ll expect to see in March.