Villanova-Penn Preview

Villanova has gotten hot from the outside after stumbling early in Big East play. There’s little reason to think the offense will cool off Saturday night when it briefly steps out of conference action.

The fifth-ranked Wildcats can cap a second straight perfect season in the Philadelphia-based Big Five by notching a 12th straight victory over Penn, which is in the Ivy League basement.

Despite the apparent mismatch, Villanova coach Jay Wright is making his players aware that a trip to the famed Palestra on the Quakers’ campus might not be so easy.

"It’s one of the most historic arenas in our country," Wright said. "I don’t think our guys have any idea what that’s going to be like – we’ll have to talk to them about that. It’s going to be a heck of an environment. Penn is playing better. It will be a tough game."

While Penn (4-8) has the worst overall record of any Ivy League team, the Wildcats (16-1) are alone atop the Big East after putting together three straight impressive wins following a 66-61 overtime loss at Seton Hall on Jan. 3. They’ve bounced back to beat St. John’s, DePaul and Xavier by at least 13 points apiece and scored more than 80 in each game.

"I think Jay Wright’s got, not to put any pressure, a Final Four quality team," Xavier coach Chris Mack said after his team’s 88-75 loss Wednesday. "They are loaded at every position."

Villanova is 38 of 86 (44.2 percent) from 3-point range during the three-game win streak after beginning Big East action with a combined 10-of-44 effort against Butler and the Red Storm. The Wildcats were held below 70 points in both games – that happened only once in nonconference play.

Ryan Arcidiacono is 8 of 13 from beyond the arc over the past two games after a season-long 11-for-50 slump (22.0 percent). Dylan Ennis went 5 of 8 on 3-point attempts against Xavier after entering in a 3-for-23 funk. Ennis scored 17 while Arcidiacono had a game-high 18.

"Coaches tell us to keep at it and keep shooting. We go out and practice it," Ennis said. "We don’t think of it as a slump, it’s just the next shot. … I think we’ve just stuck to what we do well. We catch and shoot; we have great shooters."

It seems the Quakers won’t get in their way. They allowed averages of 80.3 points, 53.3 percent from the field and 41.5 percent on 3s during a three-game losing streak to Vanderbilt, La Salle and Princeton before beating lowly Niagara 67-56 on Tuesday.

Penn held the Purple Eagles to 32.1 percent shooting, but that was against a team which is among Division I’s bottom 50 with 61.7 points per game. Villanova is among the top 50 at 77.8 and has won the past 11 meetings by an average of 16.3 points.

The Wildcats’ 77-54 win last season was part of their 4-0 record in Big Five play, a feat they can duplicate Saturday. They’ve beaten La Salle, Saint Joseph’s and Temple by an average of 21.7 points. Penn is 0-2 and faces Saint Joseph’s next Saturday.

The Quakers have dropped 35 straight to ranked opponents since knocking off another Big Five team, beating sixth-ranked Temple in overtime Nov. 23, 1998.

Tony Hicks is averaging a team-leading 14.9 points after scoring 18 in back-to-back games.