Happy Monday, VUHoops! We’re back with our quick pre-season previews ahead of the season kicks off next Tuesday. As always, we’ll have full, in-depth previews for each opponent as the games approach, but for now we plan to squeeze the content like water from a stone.
The first takeaway from Villanova’s first two weeks of the season is that he is full of chances for some incredibly impressive wins that are likely to age well as the season progresses. The challenge of setting up a non-conference schedule – as we know – is to hope that when the matches come up the opponents will be potential wins in Quad-1. This year, Villanova will face # 2 UCLA, # 18 Tennessee, then one of # 19 UNC / # 7 Purdue – four Top 25 teams – all before Thanksgiving.
But, scared money doesn’t make money. Let’s roll!
Mountaineers of Mount St. Mary’s
The Head Coach: Dan Engelstad (3rd season)
Record from the previous season: 12-11, 9-7 NEC – Lost to Texas Southern in the top four
Key players: Nanu Opoku, Malik Jefferson, Mezie Offurum
Key departures: Damian Chong Qui (transferred to Purdue Fort Wayne)
Dated: Tuesday, November 9, 4:30 p.m. (Pavillon Finneran)
Overview: Villanova kicks off the 2021-22 season with a game against the Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers at the Pavilion on Tuesday, November 9. 1 Wagner and # 2 Bryant to hit a ticket to the NCAA tournament. While the Mountaineers were ultimately beaten by Texas Southern in the top four, the team are turning over most of the squad from last year and aim to once again challenge Bryant and Wagner for the NEC crown.
As for the style of play, it’s a great game for Villanova. The Mountaineers play at an excruciatingly slow pace and finished # 355 (out of # 358 teams!) In AdjTempo last year. Led by 6’9 Opoku, 6’9 Jefferson and 6’8 Offurum, the Mounties prefer to kick the ball inside and play solid defense on the glass. The Mount finished in the top 50 in most defensive measures, but were hampered by a predictable, one-dimensional attacking offense. It’s hard to imagine a situation where Mt. St. Mary’s is able to score enough points to beat Villanova, even if the ‘Cats start off slow. If the ‘Cats can establish outside fire early – and take the Mountaineers’ strength out of the glass – this one will likely be a snoozer.
# 2 UCLA Bruins
The Head Coach: Mick Cronin (3rd season)
Record from the previous season: 22-10, 13-6 PAC 12 – Lost to Gonzaga in the Final Four
Key players: Johnny Juzang, Tyger Campbell, Cody Riley, Jaime Jaquez
Key departures: Jalen Hill, Chris Smith
New additions: Peyton watson
Dated: Friday, November 12, 11:30 p.m. (pouah) (Pavillon Pauley)
Overview: Damn, talk about shifting gears. After (hopefully) dispatching the Mountaineers, the ‘Cats will board a plane, travel 3,000 miles, and face the UCLA No.2 in a match that ends at 11:30 p.m. EST (#VUHoopsAfterDark). If the ‘Cats can escape with a win, it could become unmatched in terms of a non-con pickup from the NCAA tournament in March.
We all remember the UCLA Cinderella Run last March. The Bruins entered the NCAA tournament as an 11-seeded after an eventful regular season that ended in four straight losses. From there, UCLA picked Michigan St., Alabama and Michigan en route to the 19e Appearance of the last four. In the end, the Bruins were cut off by Gonzaga in an epic overtime semifinal game.
Now Mitch Cronin sacking most of his squad and entering the season with very high expectations. Although you might come across articles asking if UCLA really is a Top 2 team or if their performance in March blinded people to lingering issues, the talent is clearly there.
Obviously, Villanova’s main concern is Johnny Juzang who, along with Collin Gillespie, has been named a preseason All-American and is the face of that Bruin side. He’s an electric scorer with the ball in his hands and averaged 23 points per game in the NCAA tournament last year. Juzang is joined by point guard Tyger Campbell and sniper Jaime Jaquez. In short, this game has been circled on the Wildcats schedule since its announcement. As we’ll dive into the details of this one as it gets closer, the ‘Cats have a chance of a big win on a big stage – all before the season reaches its second week!
The Head Coach: Kenny Blakeney (2sd season)
Record from the previous season: 1-4 (rest of the season canceled)
Key players: Steve Settle III, Khalil Robinson, Kyle Foster
Key departures: Makur Maker
Dated: Tuesday November 16, 6.30 p.m. (Pavillon Finneran)
Overview: So it’s a bit difficult to get a full overview of this game considering the Howard Bison only played 5 games last year before the school decided to cancel the rest of the season. Villanova was actually scheduled to play Howard last year – a game that had received a lot of buzz due to the presence of Makur Maker, the biggest recruit to ever join an HBCU. However, the match never took place and after appearing in just two games, Maker was sidelined with a groin injury. He then left Howard and is currently with the Sydney Kings of the NBL.
Howard University is a historically black research university located in Washington DC Jay Wright has never played Howard but Villanova holds a 2-0 advantage over the Bison with the last game to come in 1998. The Bison are coached by the former DeMatha Catholic player and Duke National Champion (1991) Kenny Blakeney.
November 20 and 21, 2021
Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut
The Head Coach: Rick Barnes (6e season)
Record from the previous season: 18-9, 10-7 SEC (lost to Oregon state as 5 seeds)
Key players: John Fulkerson, Victor Bailey, Josiah-Jordan James, Santiago Vescovi
Key departures: Keon Johnson, Jaden Springer, Yves Pons
New additions: Kennedy Chandler, Justin Powell
Dated: Saturday, November 20, 1:00 p.m. (Mohegan Sun Arena)
Overview: Tennessee’s calling card last year was its stifling defense. The Vols ended the year in the Top 5 in AdjD and in the top 30 in almost all defensive measures. They generated the 13e most turnover in the country and were among the top 15 in blocks. Simply put, the Vols defense was lethal in the arc. However, the offense was inconsistent and anemic, which led to a top-down season with the Vols finishing 18-9 and eventually bouncing back as a 5-seeded by Oregon State in the NCAA tournament.
This year, the Vols have stepped up their offense with 5-star point guard Kennedy Chandler and the addition of Justin Powell, a transfer from Auburn. With Santiago Vescovi shooting from the depths, the Vols will seek to open shooters on the ground and in space. While the Tennessee defense should always remain a force, the loss of SEC defensive player Yves Pons will require adjustment, especially early in the season. Ultimately, it feels like a game where Villanova capitalizes on capturing Tennessee at the start of the year, as it could turn into an impressive win if the ‘Cats can pull it off.
The Head Coach: Hubert Davis (1st season)
Record from the previous season: 18-11, 10-6 ACC (lost to Wisconsin as an 8 seed)
Key players: Caleb Love, Armando Bacot, Leaky Black, Kerwin Walton
Key departures: Walker Kessler, Garrison Brooks, Day’Ron Sharpe
New additions: Dawson Garcia (transfer from Marquette), Brady Manek (transfer from Oklahoma), Justin McKoy (transfer from Virginia)
Dated: Sunday November 21, TBD (Mohegan Sun Arena)
Overview: Ole ‘Roy is gone and the Wildcats will get their first chance against new UNC head coach Hubert Davis if the teams meet in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic title game. I think the obvious title for the UNC roster this year is the number of talented transfers that have joined the Tar Heels this offseason. All three, especially Garcia and Manek, plan to play big roles this season alongside Caleb Love, Leaky Black, Kerwin Walton and Armando Bacot.
Tar Heels fans have high expectations of Love, who struggled last year in his first year, and they hope he can become a powerful host for 6’10 beast Armando Bacot. It’s another game where Villanova takes advantage of seeing this team early. With a new coach and three transfers, the Tar Heels will likely have growth issues early on. However, UNC plans to fight with the Duke Blue Devils for ACC supremacy by the end of the year.
The Head Coach: Matt Painter (17e season)
Record from the previous season: 18-10, 13-6 Big 10 (lost to North Texas as seed 4)
Key players: Trevion Williams, Eric Hunter, Brandon Newman, Sasha Stefanovic, Mason Gillis, Jaden Ivey
Key losses: Aaron Wheeler
New additions: Caleb Furst, Trey Kaufman-Renn
Dated: Sunday November 21, TBD (Mohegan Sun Arena)
Overview: While the game against UCLA grabbed the headlines, this potential game against Purdue could be the real gem. Purdue is getting an early buzz as a dormant national champion pick as Matt Painter returns almost every element of last year’s squad that won a 4 seed in the NCAA tournament. “Nova fans will remember the Boilermakers were chosen by North Texas, setting up a game against the Wildcats last year.
Led by 6’10 forward Trevion Williams, the Boilermakers finished in the top 25 in WOO and WOO last season with impressive wins over Wisconsin and Ohio State (twice). Purdue play slowly (278e) and is not really a threat of depth. Williams will be a challenge for a Villanova side without Jeremiah Robinson-Earl but, if the ‘Cats can beat someone else, they have a chance to win that will age like fine wine.