Villanova and Georgetown are familiar opponents, but this year the two programs find themselves in an unfamiliar position. The Hoyas have won three of the last four meetings, each time coming up against a Wildcats team ranked in the national top 10. But this time, the No. 9Hoyas (20-6, 10-5 Big East) will be favored as they welcome the struggling Wildcats (11-16, 4-11 Big East) to the District for Senior Day Saturday afternoon.
The last time an unranked Wildcats squad faced off against Georgetown was in February 2008, when the No. 8 Hoyas eked out a two-point win thanks to two Jon Wallace free throws with one second left. The rankings — or lack thereof — are similar this time around, with Georgetown back in the top-10 and Villanova unranked.
Head Coach Jay Wright’s team started off the season with four wins, but it has all been downhill from there. Surprising losses to Saint Louis and Santa Clara sent Villanova into a tailspin from which they haven’t recovered, as a team that was picked to finish eighth in the Big East has struggled early and often.
It appeared that the Wildcats might rescue their season in mid-January when they posted consecutive wins over Seton Hall and St. John’s, but they reverted to form thereafter. Six losses in seven games — including two heartbreaking home overtime losses to Notre Dame and Connecticut — have Villanova sitting at a shocking 13th in the conference.
Only four teams pull down more rebounds per game than the Wildcats, but abysmal shooting (41 percent from the field, good for 277th in the country) has more than undone all their good work on the boards.
After losing leading scorers Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes and their nearly 31 points per game to graduation, Wright was counting on junior guards Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek to step up.
The juniors have both vastly increased their scoring output, but have not done so particularly efficiently. Cheek shoots just 40 percent from the field while Wayns is only marginally better at 41 percent; neither hits more than a third of their considerable amount of three-point attempts.
Injuries have not been kind to Wright’s team either, as two starters — Wayns and sophomore guard James Bell — have missed the team’s last two games. There is no word on whether either player will be available Saturday, but even if they are, it’s safe to expect they will not be at full strength.
The Blue and Gray have provided a kind of foil to Villanova all year, as their overachievement has pushed them to unexpected heights in the rankings. They are coming off a disappointing eight-point loss at the hands of Seton Hall, but Saturday will see them return to the friendly confines of Verizon Center and face a dejected team with much less to play for.
Nevertheless, the Wildcats have shown the ability to play good teams close, even without two starters. The Hoyas will have to elevate their play if they want to win an improbable 21st game of the season.
Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. tomorrow at Verizon Center.