Villanova Vs. UConn: Defending Champs Look To End Two-Game Slide

Plenty hangs in the balance for both UConn and Villanova when the two former Big East foes reignite their rivalry Saturday at Madison Square Garden. A lot has changed for both sides since the two programs tipped off last season, when Nova blew the doors off the Huskies in a 20-point win at the XL Center in Hartford. The Wildcats lost four key players from last season’s National Championship roster. Since opening the season at No. 9, Villanova has slipped out of the polls coming off its second stint of back-to-back losses, falling to Penn and No. 1 Kansas last week, both by three points.

Villanova (8-4) is trying to avoid ending its non-conference schedule on a three-game skid before heading into Big East play, while UConn (9-3) is looking to end it’s non-conference schedule with three consecutive wins.

UConn has shown a resurgence this season under the guidance of first-year head coach Dan Hurley. The Huskies notched an early marquee non-conference win at MSG over Syracuse on Nov. 15, but are in search of another NCAA Tournament resume booster before heading into American Athletic Conference play. The Wildcats (8-4) already have lost as many games as they did all of last season.

When: Saturday, Dec. 22, at 12:30 p.m. ET
Where: Madison Square Garden
Live Stream: CBS Sports

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Phil Booth, senior guard, Villanova
— Nova’s loss to the top-ranked Jayhawks on the road was no fault of Booth’s. The 6-foot-3 guard posted a career-high 29 points in the Wildcats 74-71 loss. Booth is shooting at a 36.1 percent clip from beyond the arc and has attempted more threes (83) than two-point attempts (72) this season.

Jalen Adams, senior guard, UConn — Adams is averaging 17.3 points and just under 30 minutes a game for the Huskies. He is a shooting 54.6 percentage from two-point range, with his biggest strength being his ability to score off the dribble and drive. He is not much of a threat from beyond the arc, sinking just 17-of-51 from deep. Adams is coming off an 8-for-12, 20-point game against Drexel, despite picking up two first-half fouls in the Huskies’ 97-65 win.

PREVIEW
Villanova

The Wildcats have four losses, but three of those are against teams currently in the top-25 , including the No. 1 team in the country. Jay Wright’s squad still remains one of the most dangerous team from three-point land with Eric Paschall and Collin Gillespie also providing a punch. Following suit from Booth, Nova has attempted 350 threes, with 327 looks coming from inside the arc.

UConn
Adams, Alterique Gilbert, Christian Vital and Tarin Smith all average over 10 points a game for the Huskies, who rely on turning defense into offense and have one of the faster-paced offenses in the country, ranking 23rd in adjusted tempo. UConn also is strong at defending the three, with teams shooting 29.6 percent from beyond the arc against the Huskies.

PREDICTION
UConn 77-71 — The Huskies’ tight defense on the perimeter can cause problems for the Wildcats, who might not be able to run with the UConn

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Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images

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