Penn-Villanova Preview

December 28, 2015

Despite having a chance to claim a share of another Big 5 title, Villanova probably can't help but look ahead.

Monday night's home game against Penn should serve as little more than a warmup for the 16th-ranked Wildcats' huge challenge to begin Big East play.

Villanova has been outclassed by some non-conference powers this month, but the Quakers (5-6) are the ones who appear outmatched for this contest. Their only victory in the last six games was a tough 73-66 win over Division III Ursinus College, which led by as many as seven. Penn has lost 36 straight to ranked teams since upsetting No. 6 Temple on Nov. 23, 1998, and 12 in a row to Villanova.

The Wildcats (9-2) have also won 12 straight Big 5 games and are alone atop the standings this season at 2-0 in the annual round-robin series involving fellow Philadelphia schools Penn, La Salle, Temple and Saint Joseph's. They've won the title outright each of the past two seasons.

So Villanova shouldn't have any trouble winning this matchup at The Pavilion, where it owns a 32-game winning streak. Keeping that run going Thursday won't be so easy because the Wildcats will play their Big East opener against sixth-ranked Xavier, one of five unbeaten Division I teams.

With that showdown looming, coach Jay Wright may keep starter Kris Jenkins off the floor Monday. The junior forward injured his right knee in Tuesday's 78-48 rout of Delaware, and an MRI the following day confirmed the original diagnosis of a sprain. Jenkins, who averages 10.9 points, is listed as day-to-day.

"We're relieved and thrilled for Kris that this is not as serious as we feared it might be," Wright said. "Kris has worked extremely hard and is an important part of our frontcourt."

Jenkins' career high of 23 points came last Saturday at then-No. 8 Virginia, but the Wildcats never led in the final 12 minutes of an 86-75 defeat. It wasn't nearly as close two weeks earlier in Honolulu against Oklahoma, which won 78-55 and is now ranked No. 3.

Wright's team was 4 of 32 from 3-point range that day but has regrouped in the last three games to go 36 for 89 (40.4 percent). Josh Hart is 9 of 14 on 3s in that span following a 4-for-23 slump.

"We are passing out shots that we could get for more open shots," Hart said. "It was good shooters taking bad shots at the beginning of the year. We watched film and coach talked to us about it. We work on shot fakes and shooting in practice every day. Our thing is to get in the lane, find an open guy, if he isn't open keep reversing it and get an open shot."

Yet the focal point Monday could be forward Daniel Ochefu, who may be starting alongside four guards if Jenkins doesn't play. He had a career-high 21 points and 10 rebounds in last season's 62-47 road victory over Penn. Ochefu opened this season with three straight double-doubles but has since averaged 7.1 points and 6.0 boards.

He'll be matched up with fellow 6-foot-11 senior Darien Nelson-Henry, who has three double-doubles in the past four games and leads Penn with averages of 13.3 points and 9.4 rebounds. Nelson-Henry had six points and four turnovers against Villanova last season.

His best game was a 31-point, 14-rebound effort in a win over La Salle on Nov. 25, and he notched another double-double against Temple on Dec. 9 as Penn had another good effort in Big 5 play despite losing 77-73. The Quakers are looking to post two Big 5 wins in one season for the first time since 2006-07.