Villanova's Dante Cunningham Evolving Into Elite Power Forward

Joe PawlikowskiContributor IDecember 11, 2008

The first thing I noticed at tip-off for the Villanova-Texas game at the Jimmy V Classic was the size of the Texas frontcourt.  The next thing I noticed was they couldn't box out or contain Dante Cunningham on defense.

Cunningham showed the potential to be a prolific power forward with an "inside-outside" offensive game last year.  Against Texas he showed he has reached that level.  Despite the big bodies in the middle for Texas, Cunningham was very active on the offensive glass, generating many second-chance points and opportunities for Nova.

He finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds, and what impressed me the most was the variety with which he earned his points.  He showed impressive touch with jumpers from the foul line and elbows, but also operated very effectively out of the low post.  He showed the strength to crash the boards and finish down low, as well as a couple of finesse moves off the dribble.

He took on Connor Atchley and Clint Chapman, both 6'10", as well as Damion James, who at 6'7" can play big and averages over eight rebounds a game. 

Nova had climbed up to number 12 in the polls, but they were untested at this point.  They proved they can play with one of the premier teams in the country and will be a tough opponent in Big East play.

But they would not have stood a chance without Cunningham.  He and Corey Stokes scored Nova's first 19 points until Scottie Reynolds finally made his first shot.  Cunningham showed he is capable of being a first-team All Big East selection. 

He can rebound on both sides of the ball, he showed his athleticism and ability to run the floor, and he stayed active defensively with two blocks.  While Reynolds has been the focus for opposing defenses the last two years at Nova, Cunningham is emerging as their primary scoring threat.

This could make Nova's offense very dangerous, as Reynolds is perceived as a scoring point guard.  If he continues to penetrate effectively, the combination of threats—including finishing himself, dumping off to Cunningham, or kicking out to shooters Corey Stokes and Reggie Redding—makes Nova's offense very scary.

That's when they run the offense through Reynolds.  Now imagine if Jay Wright starts drawing up more plays to run through Cunningham.