Before they go on a 10-day holiday break, a lull that includes three days of visits from players’ families, the Villanova Wildcats have some work to do to finish the dreadful calendar year of 2020 on a positive note.
The fifth-ranked Cats (7-1, 2-0 Big East) have a date Wednesday night with Marquette (5-4, 1-2) at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum. Don’t be fooled by the Golden Eagles’ record; two of their victories came earlier this month against top-10 teams – Wisconsin (home) and Creighton (away).
The Wildcats are happy not to have to figure out a way to stop Markus Howard, the Big East’s all-time leading scorer who played nine games against Villanova in his career and averaged 23.3 points. But the Golden Eagles now present a team with more balance and six players who average between 8.3 and 15.2 points.
Perhaps the most exciting players are two freshmen – 6-foot-11 forward Dawson Garcia (13.1 points per game, 6.6 rebounds per game), and 6-7, 245-pound forward Justin Lewis (8.6, 6.6).
“Garcia is a McDonald’s All-American,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “He has fit in extremely well. His skill is allowing him to play on the perimeter and inside at this level immediately. Lewis, we knew he was good – he’s from Baltimore – but he improved so much from his senior year of high school until now.”
The game marks the end of the opening segment of Villanova’s basketball season in this year of the pandemic. The Wildcats, who sat out almost three weeks in September after a few Tier 1 members of their program tested positive for the coronavirus, had four games postponed due to COVID issues encountered by their opponents.
One of those games, against St. Joseph’s, was made up last Saturday. They also arranged two games not on the original schedule, back-to-back contests at Mohegan Sun’s “Bubbleville” against Virginia Tech and Hartford.
They were to begin the second segment next Wednesday against St. John’s at Finneran Pavilion but Wright decided they needed a break, and officials of the Red Storm agreed. That’s where the decision was made by Wright to have families of his players come in this week for a visit.
Wright said he set up the schedule on a Zoom call with the families Monday night.
“They can come in any time between the 24th and the 26th, and then the night of the 26th we’re going to start our own isolation again,” he said Tuesday on a Zoom call with reporters. “So each family member is setting up their times to come in to the Pavilion, social distance, meet with their guys. Some are coming for two or three days, some are coming for one day. So we have a schedule set up.”
Wright said he and his coaches will not be involved because “days off away from us and not doing team functions are actually a gift to these guys because we do everything together.”
“So they’re going to eat with their families and it’s set up that time, whenever they want to do it,” he said. “We have spaces on campus that are dedicated so that they’ll have social distancing and isolation to meet with their own families.”
Wright said the players will check into a hotel on Saturday night, stay in individual rooms to isolate and get tested every day for four days. The Wildcats resume their season Jan. 2 at Xavier.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl said he is looking forward to a visit from his mother.
“It means a lot,” he said. “She lives in the area so it’s nice to just be able to actually sit down with her and have a meal of some sorts. But it’ll be nice just to be able to interact with her up close for a longer period of time.”