Although West Virginia had trouble with Villanova’s backcourt last season, the frontcourt could pose the bigger problem in 2010-11.
The 12th-ranked Wildcats and No. 25 Mountaineers play their lone matchup of the season Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center after splitting two entertaining meetings a season ago.
Villanova (18-4, 6-3 Big East) got strong efforts from guards Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher last season against West Virginia (15-6, 6-3). The two combined for 38 points in an 82-75 road win before totaling 29 in Reynolds’ final home game as the Wildcats blew a 13-point halftime lead in a 68-66 overtime loss.
Since Villanova no longer starts three guards, big men Mouphtaou Yarou and Antonio Pena have been featured more this season. The Wildcats seemingly haven’t missed a beat.
“They’ve got their big guys so much more involved now than probably they did a year ago,” Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins said. “I think they’re very, very good and I think they’re well deserving of being one of the top 10 teams in the country.”
The Wildcats’ new approach was evident in a 75-70 victory over Marquette on Wednesday. Yarou had 18 points and Pena added 14 and 10 rebounds for his fourth double-double.
“Villanova doesn’t win too many games because of their inside game, and I think we did,” coach Jay Wright said. “I thought Mouph was outstanding and ‘Tone was great.”
The Wildcats had lost three of four before beating Marquette. Fisher scored 17 points and fellow senior Corey Stokes added 14.
“You just never know when it can turn around in this league,” Wright said. “The good thing about this league is, if you do turn it around, you’re going to be playing a top-10, top-15 team and you’re going to look good quick.”
Wright may want to emphasize Villanova’s inside game with West Virginia down to eight players for its last three games. Mountaineers top scorer Casey Mitchell was suspended Jan. 24 for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
Mitchell, a senior guard who averages 16.6 points, was also suspended indefinitely in October for violating team rules.
“Casey has some things he needs to take care of and if he takes care of them, then we’ll talk about if and when he comes back,” Huggins said Thursday.
Joe Mazzulla has averaged 12.7 points over the last three games in place of Mitchell in the lineup. The Mountaineers are 2-1 in that span, beating Seton Hall 56-44 on Wednesday.
Mazzulla and Darryl Bryant have been forced to log more minutes in the backcourt. That could be an advantage for Villanova, which uses speedy guard Maalik Wayns off the bench to complement Fisher and Stokes.
“Out of necessity, we’ve played both of our point guards together in Joe Mazzulla and ‘Truck’ Bryant,” Huggins said. “If we have a chance to match up with them, I think that’s our best chance.”
These teams excel at stifling opponents from the perimeter. West Virginia leads the Big East by limiting foes to 27.0 percent on 3-pointers and Villanova is second at 29.2 percent.