Garrett Miley (@GWMiley)
(Note: This preview looks at this CoBL matchup from the Villanova point of view. For Josh Verlin’s preview from the Lafayette side, click here).
Villanova (0-0) vs. Lafayette (0-0)
When: Friday, November 8, 8 PM EST
Where: The Pavilion, Villanova/Fox Sports 2
In a sentence…A talented group of Wildcats open at home against a Patriot League contender in Lafayette.
Getting to know the Leopards
Fran O’Hanlon has been at Lafayette for 19 years, and this is certainly one of his most talented teams in that time. The Leopards were picked to finish second in the Patriot League preseason poll, and the pieces are there for them to win a conference title and advance to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2000.
The biggest name to know is junior small forward Seth Hinrichs, a 6-7 wing who lead the team in scoring last year (14.5 ppg) while shooting 45.6 percent from beyond the arc. Hinrichs is on the short list for Patriot League Player of the Year headed into the season, and if he gets going can be a serious threat from all over the floor.
Hinrichs isn’t the only member of the team who do damage from the 3-point line. Sophomore Bryce Scott, an expected starter at shooting guard, made 42.7 percent of his treys, and should be taking quite a few attempts from distance on Friday night. Junior Joey Ptasinski, another starter on the wing, knocked down 37.8 percent of his 3-pointers.
Freshman Nick Lindner, the expected starter at point guard, is an average shooter but a fantastic floor general with a great basketball I.Q. and a high motor; don’t expect him to play like a freshman playing his first collegiate game so close to his alma mater of Germantown Academy.
Up front, junior forward Dan Trist, who averaged 12.4 ppg and 3.7 rpg, is a solid mid-range shooter who needs to get more physical to contend with Dan Ochefu in the middle. He’ll start at center but could slide to the ‘4’ if fellow Australian Nate Musters, at 6-10 the teams’ biggest body, comes in at center; Ben Freeland, Billy Murphy and others could see spot time at forward but don’t expect any of them to see serious minutes.
Keys to the Game
1. Maintaining a rebounding edge: Last season, Villanova was a top-100 rebounding team in the nation on the way to a berth as a ninth seed in the NCAA tournament. With the loss of leading rebounder Mouphtaou Yarou and senior forward Maurice Sutton, the Wildcats will need to look elsewhere to maintain the rebounding advantage they held over their opponents throughout last season.
Starters Daniel Ochefu and JayVaughn Pinkston should be able to establish their presence on the glass early against the Leopards. Lafayette’s leading rebounder from last season, junior guard Seth Hinrichs, does not have the size to compete with the 6-foot-11 Ochefu in the paint and the Wildcats should have no problem out muscling the Leopards on the glass, and that usually puts Jay Wright’s team in a position to win the game.
“They’re definitely a great shooting team and know how to hit the rebounds hard,” freshman guard Josh Hart said. “We’re going to have to work on closing out, box outs, and tagging the offensive rebounder and just dominating on the glass.”
2. Stopping the ‘3’: Lafayette shot 38.4 percent from behind the arc last season en route to an appearance in the Patriot League conference final. Not that they’ve added another proficient shooter in Lindner to their starting lineup, stopping their prolific three point attack is a top priority for Villanova on their home opener.
“What hurts you is their threes,” Wright said. “But what makes them such a good offensive team is if you overextend on those threes they kill you with back cuts, drives, and kick outs. They really are balanced. What makes them well balanced is that they all can shoot the three. Either they’re making them against you or they’re making you guard them and taking advantage of it.”
3. Freshmen forwards in big reserve roles: With the aforementioned losses of Yarou and Sutton, Villanova will be forced to rely on freshman forwards Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds all season long. Josh Hart, a freshman slasher will also get a significant chance to contribute early in the season, and both he and Reynolds played big minutes in the exhibition opener against West Chester last Saturday. They’ll get their first chance to make a positive impression on Friday against Lafayette, but Wright knows that their true value lies long term in the season.
“With a couple guys going down, that could happen,” Wright said. “It could happen during the regular season. I hope both those freshman get to the point where they help us function really efficiently and we can play them a lot.”
Josh Hart steps up
With the injury to key transfer Dylan Ennis, freshman guard Josh Hart will get a chance to play significant minutes right away in his Wildcat career. He played a surprising 29 minutes against West Chester in the exhibition opener last Saturday, scoring 12 points and grabbing four rebounds. Against Lafayette, Hart will once again get a chance to replace Ennis in the rotation and contribute immediately for Villanova.
“Whenever someone goes down, there’s always a chance for another person,” Hart said. “You definitely hope he can get back as fast as he can and get as healthy as he can but it’s a chance for me to go out and there and play hard and do whatever I can to help the team win and hopefully that will go pretty well.”
The minutes that Hart logged in the Wells Fargo Center in a rout of West Chester have settled the nerves that most freshmen enter their college careers with. Hart feels prepared, thanks to his teammates, to contribute in the home opener and is taking a relaxed approach.
“I’m being loose about it,” Hart said. “Being focused but at the same time understanding that I have a great team and no matter how I perform they’re going to lift me up. I’m pretty comfortable and really loose. I’m just going to have fun.”
With Arcidiacono missing practice time this week because of a ribcage injury, and Kris Jenkins exiting the exhibition opener in the first half after stepping on the foot of a West Chester player, the health of two rotation players was in question all week.
“Kris’ ankle is good,” Wright said. “Arch had a tough week. We’ve been going day-to-day with him. I’m interested to see how he is today. I don’t think it’s going to be a long injury but for this game I don’t think he’s going to be 100% but he’ll play.”
With good prognoses on both players before the home opener, both are currently slated to suit up against the Leopards on Friday evening. Arcidiacono, who is still feeling some effects from his injury, will proceed as normal with regards to playing time according to Wright.
“That’s exactly what our approach is going to be,” Wright said. “Let’s just play him like he’s 100 percent and see how he handles it and we’ll adjust from there. We already got great experience last Saturday playing without him so I want to get him in there. He hasn’t been able to practice all out this week.”