Villanova returns to the basketball court Tuesday night for the first time since last year.
Well, it’s been only 27 days since the Wildcats played a game, but it seems like a year since they competed. Two pauses for positive COVID-19 tests – one that included coach Jay Wright, the second that saw two players come down with the virus – resulted in the postponement of four games since they defeated Marquette on Dec. 23.
The third-ranked Cats (8-1, 3-0 Big East) hope to return to near-normal Tuesday night when they welcome Seton Hall (9-5, 6-2) to Finneran Pavilion, but it remains to be seen how far they are from being in the shape to cope with 40 minutes of battling the always-difficult Pirates.
Wright said Monday that every player on his roster has been cleared to play, including the two players who had tested positive but went through quarantine and passed their cardiac examinations where doctors checked for possible myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle.
“There’s about six of the guys that have been working out now for five days, so I think we’ve got five, six guys who are in really good shape and are good to go, so I feel better about them,” he told reporters on a videoconference call.
“We’ve got a couple of guys on the court today for the first time. Now, they did individual things and they looked like they were in pretty good shape. Just playing in the game, game decisions, game situations, I just don’t know what we’re going to do yet.”
Wright said he has been impressed with how the players have looked after having gone through individual workouts with strength coach John Shackleton, but admitted, “We’re definitely not there.
“I don’t want that to be an excuse, I’m just trying to be honest with you,” he said. “We’ll probably look raggedy. But as I’ve said, every team has had to go through this. Every team’s dealing with this.”
Collin Gillespie, the Wildcats’ No. 2 scorer (15.3-point average) who is shooting 44.4% from three-point range, said it’s been “a little crazy” sitting around without being able to get together as a team, but that ended with last Thursday’s practice.
“We were really excited to get back in the gym with each other, just have each other around because we weren’t allowed to see each other at all,” he said. “So it was good to be back together, get in the practices, playing each other, running up and down. It’s been good. We’re excited to play again.”
Gillespie said there are no worries about their competitive edge being dulled after so much time off.
“I think it makes us more eager to compete,” he said. “Whenever you can get a chance to play against somebody else in another uniform, you’re excited to play. You like playing with your brothers against another team. So we’re excited.”
The Pirates haven’t played since Jan. 9, when they won at DePaul. Their scheduled game last Saturday against Xavier was postponed because of coronavirus issues in the Musketeers’ program.
Seton Hall is led by 6-foot-11 senior Sandro Mamukelashvili, who averages 18.1 points and 6.9 rebounds. In two games against Villanova last season, he averaged 19.5 points and 9.0 rebounds and shot 60% from the floor. The two teams split the games, with each team winning on its opponent’s court.
It’s a tough team to play coming back from a long layoff, but Wright said his team can’t wait.
“We’re really excited to play a game and we’ve got to play Seton Hall, who’s really good and is always a tough game for us,” he said. “But I think our excitement about playing is really the most important emotion that we want to dwell on right now.”