The rumors regarding a potential Villanova-Virginia matchup have proved to be true. Earlier this week, the schools confirmed that they will play a two-game home and home series starting in December (Saturday, December 19 to be exact) of the 2015-16 season. The first of the two games will be played in December at Virginia’s John Paul Jones Arena, and the series will come to the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia for the 2016-17 season. Virginia has won 4 of the 6 games these two programs have played previously, however Villanova won the most recent competition in 2004.
The announcement of this home and home series comes at the perfect time for Villanova, which is trying to quiet critics who argue that the Wildcats’ strength of schedule is questionable at best. In addition to adding Virginia to their schedule, the Wildcats will also be playing non-conference games against Nebraska as part of the Big Ten-Big East Challenge and a neutral site game in Hawaii against Oklahoma. Villanova will also be participating in the pre-season NIT Tip Off and continuing their dominant run in the Big 5. With several non-conference games on the schedule against the nation’s most elite teams, Villanova has gone above and beyond in responding to the complaints about its strength of schedule. Hopefully this increasingly difficult schedule will also help the Wildcats prepare for a deeper run in March.
Villanova and Virginia are two premier programs in NCAA men’s basketball. The Big East regular season champs and the Big East tournament champs are coming off of a 33-3 record, a one seed in the NCAA tournament and top five finish in the AP Poll. The Wahoos are also coming off a 30-win season and second consecutive ACC tournament championship. With both programs racking up 30 or more wins last season and winning their respective league tournaments, this matchup is sure to be an instant classic. Both teams were also seeded highly in the tournament, and both schools were upset in the third round of the tournament. The Wildcats and Cavaliers are also both projected to be in or near the top 10 teams net season.
Despite their similarities, Villanova and Virginia will prove to be an interesting matchup. Villanova is returning five of its eight top shooters, and is adding several high-class freshman recruits to its roster, including the much talked about Jalen Brunson. The Cavaliers’ 2015-16 squad will be spearheaded by London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon.
“We are really excited to play an outstanding program with a great coach in Tony Bennett,” said Jay Wright. “We compete as an academic institution with Virginia and we have so much respect for the basketball program and its tradition of success. This is a great series for Villanova and we’re really looking forward to it.”
Virginia head coach Tony Bennett similarly expressed his enthusiasm for this series in a statement, “Villanova has a storied history and has been one of the premier basketball programs over the past few seasons. I have a lot of respect for coach Jay Wright and his program, and we look forward to a couple of highly competitive nonconference games.”
While both coaches are excited, fans are probably over the moon about this series and should watch out for some interesting matchups. Coach Wright often favors a smaller lineup that can shoot from range and drive the ball. The Wildcats generally have one true big man, in Daniel Ochefu, on the floor at a time. Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers have several big men that anchor the team including a veteran backcourt in London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon.
It will be interesting to see how Villanova’s three point shooting fares against Virginia’s Pack-Line Defense. The Cavaliers’ defensive system is meant to limit fast break opportunities, which may not be the most effective way to stop a behind-the-arc shooting team like Villanova. Against a team whose defense is designed to protect the paint, Villanova may also have to get aggressive with attacking the rim and drawing fouls in order to be successful on the drive. In addition, Virginia’s defense forces teams to pass the ball, which slows the tempo down. This would be problematic for the Wildcats if they didn’t prefer a slower tempo and a ridiculous amount of ball movement before taking shots. Virginia’s defense is vulnerable against sharp shooting teams, as evidenced in Virginia’s loss to the Tennessee Volunteers last season. If Villanova can capitalize on this weakness, it may be able to edge the Cavaliers out.
Villanova’s defense, which usually hinges on forcing turnovers and trapping opponents in difficult situations, can frustrate teams. However, to beat the Cavaliers with defense, Villanova is going to have to pay special attention to the sharp shooting Perrantes who shot 43.7 percent from behind the arc and 86 percent from the free throw line. The Wildcats will have to force Perrantes to create shots off the dribble and try not to leave him alone on the wing if they want to contain him. Uncontested shots from Perrantes could be a death knell for the ‘Cats.
Luckily for the Wildcats, Big East Tournament MVP Josh Hart is starting to shine in every aspect of his play. His effort on the defensive end and his offensive efficiency, particularly from behind the arc will definitely help the Wildcats in these contests. Additionally, Ryan Arcidiacono, Phil Booth and incoming freshman Jalen Brunson could have a huge impact on this game if either, or all of them go off.
The Wildcats deep bench is also another reason to be excited. With several choices for effective sixth men, the Wildcats are able to rotate players and keep everyone fresh. Against an offensively explosive and tough defensive team like Virginia, this will be extremely important.
Regardless of who wins on December 19, this is going to be a matchup worth watching. There is something about two historic programs going head to head in a good old fashioned dog fight that gets the blood pumping and makes the fans’ hearts race. There’s nothing like playing a highly competitive, fast paced game in front of an over-capacity student section and this game certainly won’t disappoint.