Villanova (12-18) vs. Rutgers (14-17)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Tuesday, March 6, 9:00 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Madison Square Garden (19,763) -- New York, New York. Television: ESPNU. Home Record: VU 9-6, RU 11-7. Away Record: VU 2-9, RU 2-8. Neutral Record: VU 1-3, RU 1-2. Conference Record: VU 5-13, RU 6-12. Series Record: Villanova leads, 27-9.
GAME NOTES: The 14th-seeded Villanova Wildcats will try to keep their season alive another day as they square off with the 11th-seeded Rutgers Scarlet Knights in the first round of the 2012 Big East Conference Tournament at Madison Square Garden.
The winner of tonight's bout will advance to the second round to battle the sixth-seeded South Florida Bulls on Wednesday night. This will be the second meeting between Rutgers and Villanova in six days as they recently butted heads on March 1. The Wildcats invaded the RAC and walked away with a 77-71 victory due to their 50 percent shooting from the floor and 10-of-18 showing from beyond the arc in the contest. The Scarlet Knights managed to make only 35.5 percent of their field goals in the loss.
Coach Jay Wright turned Villanova into one of the top programs in the nation since taking over and has led it to the NCAA Tournament the past seven years. That streak appears to be over unless the Wildcats piece together a miracle run in this tourney, as they enter with a 12-18 overall record and a 5-13 mark in league action. Wright's 18 losses this season ties a career-high and is the most he has ever had in a season at Villanova. The Wildcats have struggled as they dealt with injuries and inexperience along the way. VU finished the regular season 15th in the Big East in scoring defense with an allowed average of 71.8 ppg.
Rutgers might be an ideal opponent for Villanova, as it struggles on the offensive end to produce. The Scarlet Knights come into the post-season average a second to last in the Big East 66.0 ppg. Coach Mike Rice was able to build some momentum entering the conference tourney as his squad downed St. John's, 61-58, in their regular season finale on Saturday. The victory made the Scarlet Knights 14-17 overall and 6-12 in league action, which kept them one game ahead of Villanova and Pitt in the standings. Despite the win over the Red Storm, Rutgers continued to struggle offensively as it was held under 40 percent shooting for the second straight game. The Scarlet Knights have been ice cold from beyond the arc in their last two games, as they have made only 10-of-39 from distance during that span.
The Wildcats have to be excited about RU's three-point shooting woes, as they have outshot their last two opponents from distance. Villanova's second team All-Big East selection point guard Maalik Wayns knocked down 8-of-13 from three-point range in his final two games of the season as he finally appears to have returned to top form from his sprained MCL that sidelined him for three games. Freshman JayVaughn Pinkston gives VU a bright future and will play a factor in this one. The forward averaged 12.6 ppg in league action and posted 18 points versus the Scarlet Knights in their matchup on March 1. Dominic Cheek will certainly get into the mix as well as he has chipped in 13.2 ppg this season.
Pinkston will not be the only future star in this game, as Rutgers is led by its freshman guard Eli Carter's 13.5 ppg. Carter has scored in double-figures 24 times this season. His backcourt mate Jerome Seagears is also a rookie, and has been excellent as of late with averages of 11.5 points and 4.3 assists per game. Gilvydas Biruta is going to have to anchor the middle against VU's front line of Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton. Dane Miller has been playing very well for the Scarlet Knights lately, as he had averaged 14.3 points and 8.8 boards per game in his last four outings.
Villanova and Rutgers have both had disappointing seasons. The Wildcats should be able to get past the Scarlet Knights in this one with a healthy Wayns and Pinkston. Although RU's young core has talent and potential, it does not have the scoring punch needed to keep up with Villanova.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Villanova 75, Rutgers 66
03/06 10:33:39 ET