It’s been a rough start to the college hoops season. A quick three losses right out of the gate have me looking to get that first one out of the way after Cal toppled ‘Cuse in Madison Square Garden. I’ll change New York basketball venues for Monday’s pick – shifting from the Garden to the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, which hosts the Progressive Challenge between a pair of top-15 teams from the Atlantic Coast. Oddsmakers have Villanova as a small one-point favorite over the Rams of Virginia Commonwealth.
Of any team in college basketball year to year, VCU is likely the most predictable early on in the season because of the way Shaka Smart’s teams always play. VCU returns a good core of talent from last year’s team. Melvin Johnson and Treveon Graham each enter Monday’s game with at least 18 points per game in the early going. The junior and senior, respectively, averaged double-figures last season and both should pour in at least the type of scoring VCU got last year from Graham and Juvonte Reddic. Briante Weber also comes back for his senior season after winning A-10 Defensive Player of the Year last season with 3.5 steals per game. The quick perimeter defender has managed to dwarf that massive number three games into this season – putting up 5.5 swipes per game in November so far. This VCU team has some talent, and its chaos tends to rattle more cages early on when teams are still coming together than at the end of the season when backcourts are more secured.
But if there’s a team that’s equipped to handle VCU’s havoc in the early part of the season it’s Jay Wright’s ‘Nova squad. The Wildcats return much of an overachieving squad that was upset in the Round of 32 by the eventual National Champion Connecticut Huskies. Backcourt leader Ryan Arcidiacono returns, alongside Dylan Ennis and left-handed scorer Darun Hilliard. JayVaughn Pinkston comes back for his senior season after scoring 14 points per game last year. Currently, he’s the sixth-highest scorer on this year’s team. What you get with the Wildcats is smart, sensible and simple basketball that makes them a nice matchup in this game. ‘Nova also has a deep bench that Jay Wright wants to go to. VCU shouldn’t be able to rattle Villanova’s ball handlers, nor should it really be able to tire it down much faster than itself.
With senior leadership in the backcourt and up front, along with experienced ball handlers who can handle VCU’s pressure, I like Villanova to win this game. Little trouble laying the one point in a game where all I need is for the better team to win early on.
Free Pick: Villanova -1
2014 CBB: 0-3 -3.3