November 21, 2015

Although his Wildcats are playing up to high expectations, Villanova coach Jay Wright realizes that could easily change in a quick turnaround against a tough foe.

As the 11th-ranked Wildcats seek their 27th straight home victory, Akron will try to extend its best start in 35 years Sunday with another upset in the NIT Season Tip-Off.

Much is expected of Villanova after it brought back Josh Hart, Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu from a team that won 33 games, the Big East regular-season and tournament titles and added highly touted Jalen Brunson.

The Wildcats haven't disappointed, winning their first three by an average of 32.0 points. They've shot 48.7 percent while their pressing defense has helped force 17.3 turnovers and limit opponents to a 32.2 field-goal percentage.

Kris Jenkins led the way with 17 points Friday, Phil Booth added 16 off the bench and Ochefu contributed 12 and 16 rebounds in an 86-51 home win over East Tennessee State in the preliminary round of the Tip-Off. Ochefu leads six players averaging double-digit points with 15.0 to go with 12.0 boards after his third straight double-double.

"I'm happy with the wins of course," said Ochefu, who has led the Wildcats to a plus-7.0 rebounding margin. "Just like coach said, we have to get better every day with our defense and rebounding. That's a challenge we're going to have all season."

Villanova would like to keep that mindset as it faces an Akron team that certainly won't be intimidated after shooting 50.9 percent - including 13 of 28 from 3-point range - in an 88-80 win over Arkansas in its opening-round game Wednesday.

The Zips (3-0) are one of only five teams with at least 21 wins in each of the past 10 seasons and they appear well on their way to another during their best start since attaining Division I status in 1980-81. They've beaten a team from a Power 5 conference in each of the past five seasons and are 3-2 in those matchups over the last two.

"This is an outstanding team coming in here off a big win at Arkansas," Wright told the team's official website. "We've been in this position before of playing two games in three days, but it's a new experience for our young guys."

Akron's Antino Jackson led the way with a career-high 23 points and seven assists against the Razorbacks, while Reggie McAdams scored 18 and Isaiah Johnson 15 off the bench. McAdams has gone 10 for 17 from beyond the arc over the first three games.

The Zips also have been strong defensively, limiting opponents to 54.3 points on 28.4 percent shooting - including 14 for 68 (20.9 percent) from 3-point range.

The Wildcats led the Big East in 3-point shooting at 38.9 percent in 2014-15, but went 19 for 66 (28.8) in their first two games before improving Friday. Starting guards Brunson, Hart and Arcidiacono hit 6 of 7 to help Villanova go 14 for 34 (41.2).

After halting Arkansas' 25-game home winning streak against nonconference opponents, the Zips will try to deal Villanova its first home defeat since January 2014.

"We are big and strong, which most mid-majors are not, and we feel we can play at this level," coach Keith Dambrot told the team's official website.

This is the first meeting between the schools.

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