After playing basketball for three weeks, Villanova finally has an opportunity to play at Finneran Pavilion for the first time this season, but no fans will be there to give the Wildcats their customary raucous welcome.
Still, the seventh-ranked Wildcats (5-1) have had better luck competing in games than Wednesday night’s opponent, Big East rival Butler. The Bulldogs (1-0) are playing for the first time in three weeks after defeating Western Michigan in their season opener, then sitting out four postponed dates.
“We’re just grateful to be playing,” Wildcats guard Collin Gillespie said Tuesday. “Wherever it is, wherever we can get a game, whenever we can get a game, we’re grateful to be out there playing with our brothers because we know what last year felt like when we were away from the game for a while, even over the summer.”
Villanova was expected to open its home season Monday against DePaul but the Blue Demons had to postpone because of COVID issues. Reports Tuesday night indicated that the Wildcats’ game against No. 17 Virginia Saturday night at Madison Square Garden will not be played because of the same concerns in the Cavaliers’ program.
Nova coach Jay Wright said it was odd to be watching film of last year’s game against Butler at the Finn and seeing a packed house.
“I’m really concerned,” he said. “We’re not talking about it a lot because there’s nothing we can do about it. They’re watching the film and then they’re walking into the place and it’s empty. So I hope it doesn’t have any effect on us. We use the term 94 by 50 feet which means concentrate on what’s going on the court, but we will see first.”
The Wildcats came back Friday night from an 18-point first-half deficit and won their Big East opener, 76-63, over Georgetown behind 18 points apiece from Gillespie and Caleb Daniels. Villanova outscored the Hoyas 43-17 in the second half.
“We just executed what we wanted to execute going into the game,” Wright said. “So I was pleased with our execution offensively and defensively in the second half, and especially displeased that we started the game with no commitment to that game plan. I can’t explain it.
“You’ve got to play 40 minutes, that’s the real truth of it. It’s not about starting well, finishing well, it’s about playing 40 minutes. Good teams, experienced teams, do that, it’s hard to do. But that’s what we’ve got to learn to do.”
Butler lost three of its top four scorers from last year’s team, including All-Big East guard Kamar Baldwin, who knocked down a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Bulldogs a 79-76 win at Hinkle Fieldhouse in their last game against Villanova on Feb. 5.
The Bulldogs are led by senior point guard Aaron Thompson, who had 21 points in his team’s only game. They also have a pair of transfers, Jair Bolden (from South Carolina), who starred at Westtown School, and Bo Hodges (East Tennessee State).
The status of Hodges, who averaged 12.7 points and 5.8 rebounds last season, could be decided by game time. The NCAA Division I Council is expected to vote Wednesday on a blanket waiver to approve all transfers in basketball.
When asked by the Indianapolis Star if that would make Hodges eligible for the Villanova game, coach LaVall Jordan replied, “I don’t know. We’ll see.”