That’s what everybody should be screaming tonight as defending national champion No. 17 Villanova takes on Ivy League Pennsylvania at The Palestra in Philadelphia — if you’re not aware, that makes this a road game for the 17th ranked team in the land.
And on top of that, just like the Wildcats, the Quakers come into this game with an 8-2 record. And just wait until we get to the statistics… dead heat.
Coming off their national championship, it was business as usual for the Wildcats despite losing four key players (Omari Spellman, Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, and Donte DiVincenzo) from last season’s team — blowing out small schools Morgan State (100-77) and Quinnipiac (86-53).
But then, reality hit.
Villanova would face off in a home contest against the No. 18 Michigan Wolverines, a rematch of last year’s championship game. Michigan would absolutely wipe the floor with the Wildcats, smacking them from start to finish to achieve a 73-46 steamroll win over Villanova. The Wildcats were never even in it.
The impact of Villanova losing the four players from last season would continue to show itself again, and in another embarrassing loss. This time to small school Furman in another home game, 76-68.
But since then, the Wildcats have been on a roll.
Since those two losses, Villanova has been on a mission winning their last six games — including wins over No. 14 Florida State (68-60), a blowout victory over Oklahoma State (77-58) and wins over cross-town rivals Temple (69-59) and St. Joseph’s (70-58).
It looks like that Jay Wright may have gotten his Wildcats in order, and may be poised for another tournament run.
The Quakers got off to a great start to kick off their 2018-19 campaign after starting off the season 4-0. (Wins over George Mason, Rice, Lafayette, and Northern Iowa)
The most impressive victories throughout that stretch were blowout victories over Rice (92-76) and Lafayette (91-61). Some recognition also has to be shown to their wins over past Cinderellas George Mason (72-71) and Northern Iowa (78-71) as well, and also note that the close games will help Penn come tournament time — and against Villanova tonight. Honestly, all four victories look good on their resume.
The Quakers would then take on their first elite competition of the season facing off against 12th ranked Kansas State — and it wouldn’t be pretty for Penn. They would take a 64-48 hit for their first loss of the season.
The next game against Oregon State, same story. The Beavers would hand the Quakers another blowout loss, 74-58.
Notice how both Villanova and Pennsylvania have stretches here in the early season with two straight losses?
I told you this game will be a dead heat.
And the similarities don’t end there. Similar to Villanova, Penn would also go on a winning streak themselves after dropping two consecutive.
They would start out their recovery with a massive 112-63 steamroll win over Stockton. Next against Delaware State, the Quakers would once again take no prisoners in a 76-48 victory. And here’s probably the most impressive win of that stretch: A dominating 89-75 victory over power five opponent, Miami. Penn would close out their winning stretch with another blowout win, this time over La Salle, 83-65.
It’s been quality basketball going into the game against Villanova from Pennsylvania, it’ll be interesting to see if that can now transfer over against Top 25 talent.
PHIL BOOTH: Even though not elite, the senior captain comes in with some pretty effective numbers. For the season, he’s averaging 15.6 PPG, 3.1 RPG, and 3.1 APG. And here’s some good news for Penn: After a 19-point performance against La Salle and scoring 20 against Oklahoma State, Booth has seemed to cool down. He’s only scored a combined 21 in the past two games — 12 against Temple and nine against St. Joseph’s. (Both cross-town rivals, which Penn also is.)
ERIC PASCHALL: Paschall comes in with similar numbers to Booth, but is a bit more effective on the rebounding end — he averages 15.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 2.2 APG. Unlike Booth, Paschall has been on absolute fire in the past five games — a stretch where he’s piled up a total of 88 points, 26 rebounds, and 10 assists. He’s even added five steals and two blocks to his stat sheet. Needless to say, that easily counters the cool streak that Booth has been on. (Sorry, Quaker fans)
DHAMIR COSBY-ROUNDTREE: Jay Wright should give this kid more playing time (24.1 MIN) and touches, because he’s been magnificent this season. The lack of touches has only given him an average of 7.1 PPG, but he’s pulled in 8.0 RPG with his wingspan. And with his shots, it’s not like he hasn’t been hitting them — he has an incredible 73% FG thus far. He also adds averages of 1.7 BLK and 1.1 STL in the defensive department. Look for Wright to use Cosby-Roundtree against Penn’s style of play — especially against AJ Brodeur and Michael Wang.
DEVON GOODMAN: Here’s another example of this game being extraordinarily even. Goodman comes into this game with numbers very similar to Villanova’s Phil Booth. For 2018-19, Goodman has compiled averages of 15.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG, and 2.7 APG. Unlike Booth, however, Goodman has also been spectacular on the defensive side this season, tallying up an average of 1.6 STL. And that’s not the only difference between the two: Goodman has shot an incredible 52% this season — wow. Leverage to the Quakers?
AJ BRODEUR: Definitely keep an eye on Brodeur, because he probably comes in with the most balanced numbers from both rosters. For the year, he averages 13.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG, and 3.9 APG. He also carries a 49% FG, and on the defensive end has joined block parties consistently averaging 1.1-per-game. And Brodeur has been on fire his past two games — Before a 17/6/5/1/2 statline against La Salle, he would pull an 18/8/6/1/2 performance against power five Miami in an upset. Along with Michael Wang, Brodeur will make things very difficult for Villanova in the paint.
MICHAEL WANG: Another player who I think should receive more playing time, Wang (16.9 MIN) comes in with averages of 10.9, 2.9 RPG and 1.2 APG — but it’s not the numbers of why you need to keep an eye on him. Even though lanky at 215 pounds, the Chinese freshman stands tall with a height of 6-10. When you put that height beside Brodeur, he makes it very dangerous for teams who try to penetrate. Expect Wang to be a thorn in Villanova’s side throughout the night, and also expect Wang to receive a lot more minutes than usual against the Wildcats. (He played 27 minutes against Miami and collected a total of 23 points in that time.)
VILLANOVA: In scoring, the Wildcats have tallied an average of 75.0 PPG, tied for 172nd in the nation — needless to say, that isn’t too good. In the rebounding game, the Wildcats aren’t too bad — they have an average of 38.4 RPG, which comes in tied for the 92nd ranking. (Ehh) In ball movement, Villanova has averaged 14.6 APG — another horrendous ranking at 127th (tied). And then we get to the Wildcats’ saving grace: Defense. Villanova has collected a decent ranking (Tied-48th) only allowing 64.8 points-per-game — not too shabby in that department.
PENNSYLVANIA: Averaging 76.3 PPG, the Quakers come slightly above Villanova with the 137th (tied) ranking — also, not good. The most distant statistic between the two, Penn has an average of 33.6 RPG — which comes in at the No. 289 ranking. (There are 353 competing schools, ouch.) If anything will get in the way of the Quakers upsetting the Wildcats, it will be this dismal statistic. In average assists-per-game, Pennsylvania has an average of 16.1 APG coming in at a decent ranking at 52nd (tied) — though the numbers aren’t much higher than Villanova’s. Another similarity, Penn’s defense is also a saving grace — allowing 67.2 PPG, which is tied for the 75th spot in the rankings.
WHAT IT ALL BOILS DOWN TO: Rebounding, defense, and ball movement. With Villanova having a +4 rebounding advantage, that gives them a significant advantage over Penn. Just four more might not be much, but it could be the difference between going into overtime against the Quakers or winning by eight. Both teams will have to be on-point in this category for a victory. Defense wins championships, and in this contest, you can expect plenty of that — both have trouble scoring. With that being said, turnover margin will also play a huge factor of who is the winner. Whoever controls the ball the best in what will be a close game, wins. Ball movement will also be a major factor, mainly from Villanova’s standpoint. If they plan on penetrating, they’ll have to successfully get around the lengthy Pennsylvania duo of Brodeur and Wang in the paint — if they’ll fail to do so, we could be looking at an upset.
Despite being 0-10 against Villanova in their last 10 games (16-48 overall), Pennsylvania comes into unique circumstances playing their rivals with a great chance for a victory.
As mentioned earlier, the Wildcats are still trying to recover from losing four players to the NBA who made major contributions for last year’s championship. With the level of talent that Penn has this season, and the very similar statistics to Villanova, the Quakers could take advantage and pull a Top 25 upset win here in December — which would look great on their resume in March.
But can they pull off the upset at home?
With it being at The Palestra, you can expect this game to be close. Villanova may have stretches throughout where they distance their lead, but you can expect Penn to keep the game tight with defensive rallies. They don’t have to worry about scoring a lot, just make sure their defense keeps them at pace with the Wildcats — that should happen.
With Brodeur and Wang giving trouble to Villanova’s inside game, the Wildcats will move more to their three-point mode in order to rake in points. Either one of two things is going to happen in this scenario: 1. The Wildcats inconsistently shoot and miss shots, letting Penn hang in close for the upset. Or 2. Villanova ends up hitting their shots, and ends up pulling away from Penn after a defensive shutdown to solidify a win — Penn’s offense won’t be able to keep up in a high-scoring affair against the Wildcats.
If Villanova fails to hit their shots, they should then worry — Pennsylvania has a solid three-point shooting percentage for nearly 40% for the season (39.84%). That’s another factor that will play into this game heavily: three-point shooting.
If we arrive at a close game with these circumstances (which is where I have it), rebounding will then tell the rest of the story. Whoever can create the most second-chance opportunities (and keep the turnover rate low in the last few minutes), takes the cake.
Villanova will have all that they can handle against Pennsylvania, but ultimately, I feel that the Wildcats will just be too much for the Quakers. Watching Villanova as of late, it looks like that Jay Wright has his team back in form and once again intimidating. I feel that the hot streak of Eric Paschall will continue, so expect his point production to be able to handle the three-point game of Penn. Also, the Wildcats’ second-chance opportunities will exceed the Quakers’, though Penn will be competitive for boards throughout, but Villanova will overpower eventually with Cosby-Roundtree in the paint. Too much strength.
The final difference maker, in the end, will be the clutch gene — how can you bet against Villanova in games like this one? You can’t, but I’d definitely take Pennsylvania to meet the +7. The over/under is 139, bet over on that — this is a big game for both teams.
FINAL SCORE: Villanova 73, Pennsylvania 68