Welcome the latest edition of “Inside the Enemy Ship”! Later today, the Seton Hall Pirates will be at the Pavilion taking on the Villanova Wildcats. With several notable games being played between these two teams in the past few seasons, this date has been circled on the calendar of countless Seton Hall fans since it was first announced. For this edition, we had the pleasure of talking to Larry Flynn, a Junior at Villanova who writes for their newspaper, The Villanovan.
BBA: When the season started, where did you see the Wildcats’ season going?
FLYNN: The Wildcats lost some veteran leadership in the departures of seniors Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston, and I expected it to show early. Although Villanova added the talent of Jalen Brunson and would see role players like Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins step into starting jobs, I thought they would endure some growing pains early. Then, against either Oklahoma or Virginia, I thought the Wildcats would finally reassert their dominance as an elite team in the NCAA and secure a critical win against a top-10 team. Then, they would find their stride entering conference play and once against dominate the Big East. As you can see, I was both right and wrong depending on the topic. I also thought this team was set to improve defensively. Several players told me before the season that their training camp was focused on the defensive end. They did, however, recognize that it would be harder to rebound the ball, something which has been an ongoing issue for the Wildcats and could hurt them against the tenacious rebounding of Seton Hall.
BBA: What do you think of the teams (as of writing) 12-2 record
FLYNN: Villanova may have, uncharacteristically, a “2” in the loss column following non-conference play, but this team is comfortable where it is right now. The Wildcats received a much-needed wake-up call courtesy of Oklahoma, and lost a close game on the road against a top-3 ACC team. Instead of coasting through non-conference games like they did last season, Villanova is finally battle-tested heading into conference play. That being said, the Wildcats have only won one significant game against an elite team. And this one game has an asterisk, in some people’s minds. Last week, #6 ranked Xavier traveled to the Pavilion looking to take away the Big East Champions crown but, instead, watched Edmond Sumner leave the game on a stretcher.
BBA: Beside St. Joseph’s University, who would you consider Nova’s biggest rival?
FLYNN: Although St. Joe’s has the geographic rivalry, Villanova’s biggest rival will always be the Georgetown Hoyas. It’s an interesting rivalry, dating back to 1985 when the Wildcats played “The Perfect Game” and, led by Ed Pickney, shocked the world with an upset win over Patrick Ewing and the Hoyas. Today, the rivalry is interesting; instead of true hate for each other’s programs (like Red Sox-Yankees in baseball), the Wildcats and Hoyas have a mutual understanding that they need one another to perform at a high level for the conference to emerge successful as a whole.
BBA: If #6 Xavier didn’t lose Edmond Sumner early in the game, do you the outcome would have still been the same?
FLYNN:Yes. There is no way that Xavier, or any team, could’ve beaten Villanova that night. Check out these shooting splits for the Wildcats:
FT %: 91%
Some would say that Sumner would’ve been able to quiet Villanova’s 19-5 run, but I’m not so sure. In the first two possessions of the game, the Wildcats attacked the rim with a layup for Ryan Arcidiacono and a post touch and finish from Daniel Ochefu. When the Wildcats attack the rim early instead of settling for three-pointers, it is very hard to stop Villanova. That being said, Sumner would have made the game closer. The Musketeers committed an uncharacteristic 19 turnovers and some of this damage would have certainly been diminished if their primary playmaker were healthy.
BBA: Does the Big East Conference belong to Villanova?
FLYNN: Before the Xavier game, everyone was ready to crown the Musketeers the “top dog” in the Big East. But, as I kept saying, the Big East is Villanova’s to lose. There has to be another team which is able to both consistently beat Villanova and beat the rest of their Big East opponents in order to say the conference isn’t in the hands of the Wildcats. Creighton was the closest to “dethrone” Villanova two years ago by beating them twice during conference play. Since then, no other team has swept the season series during conference play. Although, yes, Seton Hall and especially your old friend Sterling Gibbs has given Villanova consistent trouble the last few years.
BBA: Which player should the Seton Hall Pirates be the most worried about meeting on the court? Why?
FLYNN: I’m going to go out on a limb and say Kris Jenkins. Sure, Daniel Ochefu has the size, but so does Angel Delgado. Yes, Josh Hart has the most complete offensive game, but he’ll go toe-to-toe with Isaiah Whitehead. But for Seton Hall defenders who can be a bit jumpy at times, the lethal pumpfake of Kris Jenkins is going to give Kevin Willard nightmares. The Pirates will need to stay disciplined defensively, especially when the Wildcats swing the ball to the weak side where Jenkins thrives on moving to the open space and making defenders pay.
BBA: Do Nova fans consider their games against Seton Hall anything special?
FLYNN: Most Villanova fans I’ve spoken with do not consider Seton Hall games a “rivalry game,” except for their obvious connection as fellow Big East opponent. These two teams, however, have an interesting relationship in their geographic proximity; a majority of students at Villanova are either from New Jersey or eastern Pennsylvania. Therefore, these winter-break matchups between the Pirates and the Wildcats are a terrific way to bring these two fan bases together. Expect to see some Seton Hall fans at the Pavilion Wednesday night.
BBA: How far do you now expect Nova to go into the NCAA Tournament?
FLYNN: “They may have floundered in the NCAA Tournament the past two years, but much of the Villanova faithful are confident that this team has a higher ceiling than in years past. The playmaking of Jalen Brunson, the length of Mikal Bridges, and the post game of Daniel Ochefu are all key ingredients which, fans hope, can propel the Wildcats back into the Final Four. It all comes down to consistency for the Wildcats. Which team will show up the first weekend in March, the sloppy, emotionless one we saw against Oklahoma or the dominant, assertive team that annihilated Xavier? If the Wildcats attack the basket, lock down the perimeter, and remain focused on the glass for 40 minutes, I could see this team making it to the Elite Eight. Realistically, a Sweet Sixteen birth sounds appropriate.
BBA: Final Score Prediction?
FLYNN: Villanova wins, 80-68
Larry Flynn is a junior English major at Villanova University. Follow him on Twitter @LFlynn_NBANOVA. Be sure to watch the game on FS1 at 7 PM tonight. As always, Hazard Zet Forward.