After tourney win in Charleston, 'Nova faces … Charleston
Undefeated defending national champion Villanova returns home with the Charleston Classic championship trophy to host College of Charleston on Wednesday at the Pavilion.
Since the 2016-17 season began, the second-ranked Wildcats (5-0) have faced little drama save for a 79-76 win in West Lafayette, Ind., over Purdue, but the plot thickens after Thanksgiving.
Charleston (3-2) is the final game for Villanova before the start of a run through the Philadelphia Big 5 that includes the Holy War against Saint Joseph's on Dec. 3 in between games at Penn (Nov. 29) and La Salle (Dec. 6).
“I feel good about where we are, our path,” coach Jay Wright said as the Wildcats left South Carolina with their arms wrapped around the title hardware.
Villanova's catalyst early in the season was preseason All-American Josh Hart, the tournament MVP at the Charleston Classic who had 11 points in the second half of the championship game.
November has been a happy month for Villanova, which owns a 24-0 record the past four years in the opening month of each college basketball season. They possess four wins by double-digit margins this month.
But there are shortcomings — quite literally — costing the Wildcats. Height was a disadvantage on last week's road trip, especially at Purdue, and when outside shots aren't falling, second chances are not easy to come by for Villanova.
“I'm not sure we were ready for this stretch, but I like the way we've come through it,” Wright said.
Final Four hero Kris Jenkins — now 24 points shy of becoming the 63rd player in program history with 1,000 points — encountered a cold spell at the Charleston Classic, but he gives Wright the reliability in his balanced starting five to overcome size issues.
Villanova is not expecting Phil Booth, a junior guard who did not play in the past two games, to return Wednesday. He is getting a second opinion on his left knee but was initially diagnosed with tendinitis.
Hart, averaging 19.2 points to lead Villanova this season, will be the focus of Charleston's defense.
Experience is on the Cougars' side with five starters and seven of their top eight from last year's rotation back from a 17-win team.
The Cougars are led by junior guard Joe Chealey and sophomore forward Jarrell Brantley but are one of the worst perimeter shooting teams in the nation early in the season at just 26.7 percent from long distance, contributing to lopsided losses to Wake Forest and UCF.
The programs have met twice with each team recording a victory. Villanova won the most recent meeting, 81-68 in 2006.
“Villanova is one of the best defensive teams in the country,” Charleston coach Earl Grant said. “They are going to be a tremendous challenge for us.”
The nonconference challenges are not long for the Cougars, who have a trip to Baton Rouge to meet LSU on Dec. 19 before digging into the Colonial Athletic Association schedule. Charleston is picked to finish fourth in the conference but has yet to record a winning record in three previous years in the league.