Big East Q&A Preview: Villanova Wildcats

Who: #7 Villanova Wildcats (11-0)
Where: The Pavilion, Villanova, PA
When: December 31 at 2:30 pm
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 1070 AM The Fan

The Butler Bulldogs get back to action against one of the best teams in the conference and country in preseason Big East favorite Villanova. The Wildcats were the Bulldogs’ opponent a year ago to open the Big East schedule, which began Butler’s slide into mediocrity last year. Unlike last year, Butler will be playing the Wildcats at home rather than the friendly confines of Hinkle Fieldhouse. While I’ve watched several of Villanova’s games this year, I am far from an insider, so to get that prospective, I went to Brian Ewart of VUHoops.com, a site dedicated to coverage of not only the Wildcat basketball team, but really all Villanova sports, and here’s what he had to say:

BH: How much of the Big East have you watched this year? What have been your initial impressions of the league and of Butler up to this point?

VU Hoops: We try to watch as much as we can, obviously. The Big East definitely got off to a great start to the season and a couple of teams have set themselves up through early results to be able to challenge for an NCAA Tournament spot. That’s pretty good overall. Butler in particular has been a surprise — though, I guess we should have all known better with Roosevelt Jones back — and it was great to see them knocking off UNC and making a splash at Atlantis. There are a couple of teams in this league now that will make Villanova uncomfortable, especially on the road.

BH: One of last year’s Most Improved players from the Wildcats in Daniel Ochefu has really appeared to build on his gains that he made last season and could be in line to win the award again this season, were it not for some guy named Dylan Ennis. How much better is Villanova with Ochefu in the lineup, and where has he gotten stronger as a player from last season?

VU Hoops: He was always pretty good defensively, and I don’t think he has changed much in that regard. On offense, however, he has (mostly) looked a lot smoother this season and more confident with his moves down low. He doesn’t make as many of the little mistakes that he has in the past — and he made his free throws against Syracuse…

BH: One player who hasn’t been as efficient from the field as last season is Ryan Arcidiacono (FYI, I didn’t even have to look up how to spell that). Anything that you’ve seen that’s caused his shooting to be off this year after a really solid sophomore season?

VU Hoops: I’m not sure if this is the cause, but he had a bandage on his right (shooting) hand/wrist for much of the early going. I’d expect his percentages to work back to normal by the end of the season. Generally speaking, however, he has had some issues since his freshman year with shot selection, and he is still working on that. The overall number of shots he takes has definitely decreased, however, which is a benefit on a team with so many scoring options. His assists-per-game is up over last season and his turnovers are down, which is where he is really providing his value on offense.

BH: To me, the guy who’s probably been the biggest surprise for Villanova (and maybe the entire conference) is Dylan Ennis. How high is this kid’s ceiling, and what’s been so different about him this year that he’s been able to make the jump that he has?

VU Hoops: Ennis is easily the best athlete on the team. In addition to being freakishly athletic, he also grew up with basketball all around him — his step-dad runs the CIA Bounce AAU program in Canada — and that has contributed to some very well developed skills and good instincts on the court. What he has had to work on is learning his role in the Villanova offense, which he didn’t firmly grasp last season, but has seemed to figure out in the early-going this year. He could really be a leader for this team and is one of the guys who could carry the Wildcats through a rough game, if needed.

BH: Villanova has looked impressive so far this season, running the table through its non-conference schedule, and Ken Pomeroy’s site has Villanova favored in every remaining game this season. Any chance that Villanova winds up undefeated in the regular season?

VU Hoops: Probably not. There are just too many tough road games left. Undefeated at home seems like a reasonable goal, but the ‘Cats are likely to drop one before the end of the season. There are a couple of strong and ambitious squads in the Big East this season — Butler included, along with St. John’s, Georgetown, Xavier and Seton Hall — that could really take advantage of Villanova if they end up having a rough night. As the season wears on, they’re going to be due for one of those.

BH: Assuming that nothing catastrophic happens this year (like getting matched up in a regional with Kentucky), how far in the NCAA tournament can Villanova go this year? What do you see as the biggest deterrent or issue that could derail them from that?

VU Hoops: Man… You’re asking me to jinx it? I’ll never hear the end of it from the folks over at VU Hoops if I answer this one! I think this team should be able to do much better in the postseason than last year’s team. They play much better offense and seem more focused and crisp on defense.

BH: What do you see as the keys to the game on Wednesday?

VU Hoops: For Villanova, the key is to play tough on defense and make the right adjustments. The ‘Cats have been so much better this season against 3-point shooters, and it has paid off for them. They’re good or great across the board on defense, and they really need to continue to build on that. Ending Butler possessions with a rebound or turnover and a break for the hoop can help get some easy points early on and will allow them to dictate the way the game is going to be played. Villanova needs to take control of things earlier to avoid putting themselves into riskier spots like they were in against Syracuse and NJIT.

BH: Jay Wright has long been known for his sharp suits, while guys like Bob Huggins have been known to coach in sweatpants that he may have previously soiled. If you were to put on the head coach’s whistle, what attire would you feel most comfortable coaching in?

VU Hoops: I’d have to go with the bespoke suit like Jay Wright. Huggy Bear only wears the casual gear because he’s a heavy sweater and ruined his suits when he wore them on gamedays.

BH: If you could celebrate New Year’s with any celebrity or historical figure, who would it be and why?

VU Hoops: Bill Raftery, because once the champagne is popped, he’ll start telling the good stories.

I really want to thank Brian for taking the time to answer my many questions. You can follow his site, as well as Brian on twitter for any updates on Villanova sports. I also happened to do a Q&A with Brian over at VU Hoops, so take a read and let us know what you think the keys to the game are in the comment section or in the message board.

Go Dawgs.

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