Villanova has had almost an entire week to review its most recent pair of heartbreaking games, contests that saw the Wildcats race out to huge early leads and then relinquish them before battling to force overtime, only to lose in the extra period.
The Wildcats (11-16 overall, 4-11 Big East) return to the court Saturday at the Verizon Center in Washington where they will take on No. 9 Georgetown, and hope they can start stringing some wins together before beginning play in the Big East tournament on March 6.
Coach Jay Wright said he is “hopeful” that leading scorer Maalik Wayns, who has missed the last three games with a sprained left knee, will be able to return to action but added that sophomore James Bell (sprained left ankle) likely will not play.
Despite Villanova’s overtime losses – 74-70 to Notre Dame and 73-70 to Connecticut – Wright said the team has remained upbeat and that he doesn’t feel a lack of confidence will be an issue.
“I know it sounds crazy … but the attitude has stayed pretty good,” Wright said Thursday on the Big East coaches’ conference call.
“You’ve got guys like Mo Sutton getting more playing time. JayVaughn Pinkston, a freshman, is playing more. Ty Johnson, a freshman, is playing more. So they’re happy about playing. Dominic Cheek is playing better. So I think guys are feeling good individually that they’re getting better.
“As a team, they’re sticking together and they feel like, when we get Maalik back and when we get James back, we still have the capability of beating anybody. That’s the way we’re looking at it right now. I really don’t worry about their confidence. I worry a little bit more about our execution, to be honest with you, than our confidence.”
Johnson has taken over point guard duties in Wayns’ absence. While he has struggled with his shooting (8 of 30 in three games), he has done a decent job leading the team, with 17 assists (5.7 average) against nine turnovers. He is averaging 8.7 points.
“Ty has had the ball in his hands (and) it’s something he’s very comfortable with,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “I think he’s very, very poised. He does a good job of distributing the ball to his teammates as well as knowing when it’s time for him to take over.”
The 6-foot-7 Pinkston is averaging 15 points since Wayns was sidelined but is shooting just 13 of 48 (27.1 percent). Sutton, a 6-11 junior, started his first two games of the season against Notre Dame and Connecticut, averaging 8.5 points and 8.5 rebounds.
The Hoyas (20-6, 10-5) are coming off a 73-55 loss Tuesday night at Seton Hall. Thompson said it “might have been our worst performance of the year at both ends of the court.”
Thompson said he doesn’t expect Villanova to do anything different than it normally does, and that he will not allow his team to be swayed by the opponent’s poor record.
“All of us could be 4-11 or not with the parity of this league,” he said. “There’s also a lot of luck on top of the skill and the talent and everything that goes into winning. A lot of their games have been close. They’ve been in a lot of games and up a lot of times, but the ball just hasn’t bounced their way.
“As we prepare for them, we realize they still have an outstanding coach, they still have outstanding talent, and you have to ignore the record because they’ve just had a few bad bounces.”
Georgetown has three players averaging in double figures led by senior guard Jason Clark at 14.5 points per game. Junior Hollis Thompson is second at 13.2 points and has connected on nearly 48 percent of his three-point attempts.
The Hoyas are strong defensively. They have allowed 59.2 points per game and a 39.0 field-goal percentage mark to their opponents.
With Wayns out, Cheek is the Wildcats’ leading scorer with a 13.0-point average. Mouphtaou Yarou averages 10.8 points and a team-best 8.2 rebounds, and Pinkston is at 10.3 points per game.