New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - The seventh-ranked Villanova Wildcats head up to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night to tangle with the Illinois Fighting Illini as part of the Jimmy V Classic.
Coming off a 29-5 mark last season, the undefeated Wildcats have put together an eight-game win streak right out of the gate and have gone from being ranked 10th in the AP Top-25 to the seventh spot this week. The rise in the rankings comes on the heels of victories over local foes La Salle (84-70) last Wednesday, and a 74-46 thrashing versus Saint Joseph's on Saturday.
As for the Illini, they too have gotten off to a very strong start by producing a six-game win streak to open the campaign. However, the run came to an end during the ACC/Big Ten Challenge last week when the team stumbled at 15th-ranked Miami in a 70-61 decision. Illinois did get back on track over the weekend though, putting up a 70-55 home victory versus the American Eagles.
In terms of the all-time series between the programs, a pair of victories by Villanova in the last two encounters has knotted it all up at three games apiece. The most recent meeting took place during the 1988 NCAA Tournament where the Wildcats captured a 66-63 win over 16th-ranked Illinois in Cincinnati.
Villanova took part in this event back in 2008 as well, falling to Texas by a score of 67-56.
Against the Hawks, who are just a few miles down the road from Villanova, the Wildcats made good with just 44.8 percent shooting from the field and 13-of-24 at the free-throw line in order to capture a resounding victory at home. Honestly, it was more about the Villanova defense than anything else, as the unit held the visitors to a mere 30.5 percent from the field, 1-of-10 behind the 3-point line and forced 21 turnovers.
The 'Cats also got plenty of scoring support off the bench as Josh Hart accounted for a team-best 12 points and eight rebounds, followed by fellow reserve Phil Booth with 11 points in only 17 minutes of action. Among the starters, Darrun Hilliard posted 11 points, four rebounds, four assists, a couple of blocked shots and two steals as he made himself available in several ways for the cause.
Through eight games, the Wildcats are limiting opponents to just 55.8 ppg as they shoot less than 27 percent beyond the arc and 40 percent from the floor. Villanova, which has only two double-digit scorers in Dylan Ennis (12.3 ppg) and Hilliard (10.5 ppg), is also forcing foes into more than 17 miscues per contest as well.
At home in the State Farm Center, Illinois trailed by three points early on against American, but then dialed up the defense and moved out to a 32-19 edge at the break, eventually capturing the 15-point win in front of an announced crowd of nearly 14,000. Malcolm Hill logged 13 points for the hosts, followed by Rayvonte Rice with his 10 as the team spread the wealth and allowed plenty of players to get involved in the action as they forced 19 turnovers and held the Eagles without a single offensive rebound.
Similar to the Wildcats, Illinois also tries to pin down opponents at the defensive end of the floor and is currently giving up just 62.8 ppg on 37.8 percent shooting from the field. Foes have also struggled beyond the arc quite a bit, connecting on just 29.7 percent of those opportunities.
Rice, a 53.0 percent shooter himself, is responsible for 17.4 ppg and is also first on the squad with 7.3 rpg as they beat teams on the glass by an average of just under four boards per contest. Hill chips in another 13.9 ppg, shooting 55.9 percent from the floor.