Defining Games for the Villanova Wildcats

Joe SpetriniContributor INovember 15, 2008

The Villanova Wildcats easily won their season opener over the Albany Great Danes, 78-60.

However, they are not yet tested. Unfortunately, two key players are out, which cut Coach Jay Wright's blessed nine-man rotation seven, but seven is not bad. 

Dwayne Anderson, a senior starter and defensive standout, is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his foot. Shane Clark, a slashing 6'7" senior forward is out four to six weeks after arthroscopic surgery on his knee.

The remaining seven in the rotation are not chopped liver. Many teams would love to have a back court rotation with 6'2" junior Scottie Reynolds, 6'1" sophomore Corey Fisher, and 6'5" junior Reggie Redding.

The same is true about their frontcourt, which is led by 6'8" senior Dante Cunningham, a powerful 6'8" junior banger Antonio Pena, and the very slick 6'5" McDonald's All American shooting G/F in sophomore Corey Stokes, plus another banger in the 6'10", 275 pound junior, Casiem Drummond.

I'd like to share a peek at ten defining games this season, three pre-conference games and seven brutal Big East contests. 

This trial by fire begins with a game against the Texas Longhorns on December 9 at Madison Square Garden.

Texas is rated No. 8 nationally in the USA Today/ESPN preseason Coaches poll, and No. 7 in the AP writer's poll. Texas also returns four starters from their 31-7 team last season.

Texas' Rick Barnes is a great coach, and guard A.J. Abrams is the top returning scorer in the Big 12. Abrams is unstoppable, but expect Villanova to minimize Abram's production with a very defensive minded Scottie Reynolds. 

Damion James is a great rebounder (10.3 per game) and reliable scorer (13.2 per game).  With defensive expert Dwayne Anderson and quick Shane Clark out at that time, we shall see what Dante Cunningham and Antonio Pena can do to contain him. They will need to extend their own quickness to contain him. Big Game.

The other two pre-conference games which will be important are against two of the tougher Philadelphia Big Five contests. (Phear Philly.)  On two days after the Texas game, 'Nova plays the Saint Josephs Hawks at Villanova. 

Saint Joe's is one of the better teams in the misnamed Atlantic 10, which has 14 teams. 

Dante Cunningham seems like the only player that can contain St, Joe's 6'9" 235 pound Senior forward Ahmad Nivens, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.8 rebounds as a Junior. 

That established, Ahmad Nivens will have the unenviable task of guarding Dante Cunningham, who averaged 10.4 points and 6.5 rebounds, and is a workman who improves much every year. 

The last non-conference test of significance is a tough Philly Big Five game against the Temple Owls, picked by tha Atlantic 10 coaches to be second in the league behind the Xavier Musketeers. Temple is led by Dionte Christmas and three other starters returning from last year.

Christmas is a 6'5" senior guard/forward who may be the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year.  Here too, Villanova needs Antonio Pena, Dante Cunningham, and perhaps by that time, Shane Clark to step up. 

Christmas averaged 19.7 points and 5.9 rebounds as a junior.

'Nova visits the Marquette Golden Eagles on New Year's day. That is a bucket of cold water which should show us how much Villanova's two sophomore blue chip Corey's (Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes) have grown in the past year.

Then there are three brutal Big East challenges out of the 18 Big East games for VU. 

They play the Louisville Cardinals at home on January 10.  Louisville was ranked No. 3 nationally in both major preseason polls.  During these games, everyone must step upincluding the water boy.

Nova plays at the Connecticut Huskies, preseason ranked No. 2, on January 21.

On January 28, they host the Pittsburgh Panthers, ranked No. 6 and five in the two preseason major polls.

Last, note that on February 28 and March 2, respectively, they play a home game against the Georgetown Hoyas and a game at the Notre Dame Irish. 

These games will affect the consciousness of the national basketball fans as well as the NCAA selection committee. How will Villanova perform?  

Dante Cunningham is a mature, reliable senior.  Scottie Reynolds is a talented, reliable junior.  How much will Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes have matured by then?  Will Shane Clark's knee be in full form by then?  Will Dwayne Anderson's foot fracture be healed by then?