Let's See How Far We've Come: Cards v. Nova Preview

The Villanova-Louisville match-ups over the last few years have produced some classics.  Last year's "Scottie Reynolds Game" saw Louisville jump out to a 17 point lead in the first half (largely with some of this year's key players) before the aforementioned Reynolds went "ham", as the kids say, finishing with 78 points on 114% shooting.  Also, the refs called 67 total fouls and the teams combined for 94 foul shots.  Obviously, the Reynolds numbers are made up but the free throw and foul numbers are 100% accurate.  It was awful.

In 2009, the Cards barely hung on at Nova despite 3-25 three point shooting, and then beat them in the Big East tournament in a great game and the first recorded "Boom M-FER!" shouted during the CardsFan922 game-watching party.  Which consisted of CardsFan922 and two often-startled dogs.  One of those two teams went onto the Final Four.  Not ours.  :(

Throughout these meetings, and every one before it since 2005, Nova relied on the four-guard offense and denying the ball to the post.  Since our offense was inside-out based, this caused us fits.  Also, four guards meant more three point shooters to guard, but somehow they were all good rebounders. 

Make no mistake about it: this year's Villanova team is very, very good.  They will very likely beat us tomorrow.  Their schedule hasn't been crazy impressive.  Their only loss, at Tennessee, was embarrassing for the Big East, especially considering what has happened since then to the Vols.  They did, however, just hand Cinci its first loss of the season for their 45th straight home win.

Not since Haim and Feldman have two Corey's dominated Their two best players both happen to be named Corey (Stokes and Fisher), and the offense runs through them.  Guard Malik Wayns leads the team in assists at 5.6 per game, and those three combine for more than half of Nova's scoring. These guys all make free throws, so if the refs call lots of fouls, that's really bad for us.

Despite that risk, look for a lot more man-to-man defense, with Chris Smith and Preston! chasing...well, I assume Wayns and Stokes?  At 6'1", Fisher would be the easiest for Siva to keep up with, and while the press in the first half really bothered Nova last year and those three average about 2 turnovers a game each, with three good ball handlers, I'm not sure how effective the press will be. Also, Stokes is almost a 50% three point shooter, but the other two struggle.  Look for Preston! to guard Stokes.

The one thing we have going for us this year is that our offense is much less inside-out oriented.  In years past, Nova denied the ball to the big men, and that really prevented us from getting into any sort of flow.  To the extent we run a half-court offense this season (which is a debatable: I'm not sure the high pick and roll every time down counts as an offense, but hey, it results in Kyle Kuric being open for three a lot) it is a lot more drive/kick and relies a lot less on TJ/Dieng having to distribute or draw double teams.  Also, transition, obviously. But Nova is one of the top teams in the country at both 3 point percentage defense and preventing offensive rebounds, according to KenPom.

All of that aside, who knows what will happen tomorrow night.   The UK game I think freaked people out that against good teams, we just weren't going to be able to compete because of the talent disparity.  And while the WKU win was impressive, that team stunk.  This will be the first real road test, against a top 10 team that defends the three well and rebounds well, with experienced guards who shoot free throws well.

But, we could still win, maybe. 

Final Prediction:  Villanova 72 - 60 Louisville.  I foresee one of those games where we aren't ever really in it, aren't ever really out of it, and Pitino averages a substitute every 2 minutes. 

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