Villanova-Illinois Preview

Villanova has excelled with impressive offensive balance, though coach Jay Wright sees the same quality in his team's next opponent.

The seventh-ranked Wildcats meet Illinois for the first time in more than 26 years Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.

Seven players are averaging at least 7.6 points for Villanova (8-0), led by Dylan Ennis' 12.3 per game - the lowest average for a Villanova leading scorer since at least 1996-97.

The Wildcats moved up three spots in the rankings Monday after two wins over fellow Big 5 schools La Salle and Saint Joseph's. Ennis had eight points on 2-of-7 shooting in Saturday's 74-46 victory against Saint Joseph's after scoring 15 and shooting 6 of 8 in Wednesday's 84-70 win at La Salle.

Four other players had at least eight points, however, led by Josh Hart's season-high 12. No player has scored more than 19 points in a game.

"I wouldn't say we have one guy that's super talented carrying the team," Wright said. "I think we've got eight guys that could carry the team."

While Illinois (7-1) has a clear-cut No. 1 option in Rayvonte Rice, who leads the team with 17.4 points per game, six others average at least 7.3. The Fighting Illini rank among the nation's top teams with 83.9 points per game.

"They're good and they're similar to us," Wright told Villanova's official website. "They've got great depth and a lot of people can score. They have good balance, too. We expect a great game. We love those games this time of year."

Illinois fell from No. 24 after a 70-61 loss at then-No. 15 Miami last Tuesday, though it bounced back with a 70-55 home win over American on Saturday.

American came in third nationally in scoring defense and slowed the pace, holding the Illini to 48 field-goal attempts after they had averaged 64.7. Illinois shot 47.9 percent after shooting a combined 35.9 in its last two games against Baylor and Miami.

"It's a difficult game to play from the standpoint of their style," coach John Groce said. "They play a style that requires you to be really disciplined and grind."

Rice shot 1 for 7 but finished with 10 points after hitting all eight free-throw attempts. Malcolm Hill had 13 points, and the Illinois bench outscored American's 28-3.

"The bench is really important," Hill said. "We have a bench full of starters, I'd say. Not mid-majors, but high D-I places."

Rice is averaging 20.0 points in three games away from home.

Villanova won two games in two days in New York last month, knocking off then-No. 14 VCU and then-No. 19 Michigan in the Legends Classic at Barclays Center.

The Wildcats are among the nation's best at forcing turnovers at 17.3 per game, while Illinois has been one of the best at limiting giveaways with 9.3 a contest.

The Illini have lost six in a row and eight of nine against top 10 teams. They own a 10-game losing streak against them on neutral floors since a 72-57 victory over No. 4 Louisville in a national semifinal April 2, 2005.

This all-time series is tied at three wins apiece with Villanova winning the last meeting 66-63 in the NCAA tournament March 20, 1988, when Wright was an assistant under Rollie Massimino.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.