The preliminaries are over for Villanova - no more visits from the likes of Monmouth and Houston Baptist. Finally, the Wildcats will play a game that will provide an early clue as to how they stack up against the nation's best.
The 15th-ranked Wildcats will meet their first Top 25 opponent of the season tonight, taking on sixth-ranked Texas at Madison Square Garden in the nightcap of the Jimmy V Classic. The Longhorns (6-1) already have played two ranked teams, losing to Notre Dame and beating UCLA.
Villanova coach Jay Wright said Texas' tougher schedule would be a concern if this were an NCAA tournament game, but not now.
"This early in the season, you just want to play this game; you want to see where you are," Wright said. "We're 8-0. Who knows what that means? I told our guys: 'There are probably 30 teams out there that could be better than us right now. There could be some guys voted above us that we could be better than.' You just don't know until everybody plays each other.
"This is the beginning of it for us. We're going to get a great test."
The Wildcats, off to their best start since the 2005-06 team began 10-0, haven't won a game by fewer than 13 points this season; they defeated Fordham and Houston Baptist by more than 35. They have trailed for only 3 minutes, 10 seconds in their games thus far.
The competition now gets better, with a ranked team, three Big Five games, and 7-2 Navy on the schedule before the start of the Big East season at Marquette on New Year's Day.
"You have to be excited for every game," guard Scottie Reynolds said. "A lot of people say we haven't really had a test, we haven't played anybody. But every time we step on that floor, we have that mind-set . . . we're playing for each other, we're playing for our coaches. It doesn't matter if we have 30,000 or 300" in the stands.
Reynolds, who has been in an early shooting slump, played his best game of the season against Houston Baptist. Forward Dante Cunningham leads the Wildcats with 17.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per game.
Swingman Dwayne Anderson, whose stress fracture in his left foot was diagnosed at the start of the season and who has played briefly in one game, participated in limited practice yesterday and was listed as questionable for tonight. If Anderson does not play, Wright once again will use a seven-man rotation.
"There's no excuses," Wright said. "Even if Dwayne can play, I don't know how much he's going to be able to give us. But we're good. If everybody stayed healthy here, we could go through the season this way because they're so interchangeable."
The Longhorns have been successful because of their defense. They have limited the shooting of six of their opponents to less than 40 percent, and that of their opponents to an average of 34.9 percent overall while allowing 56.7 points per game.
Guard A.J. Abrams is coming off a 31-point performance against UCLA, and swingman Damion James has three double-doubles in his last four games.
"This one is going to give us a test," Wright said. "But whatever happens, we've got a huge game two nights later," against St. Joseph's. "So we're going to know where we are, we're going to try to get better, and that's what's good about the early part of the season."
The Hawks also play tonight, traveling to Towson before heading to the Pavilion for Thursday night's Big Five clash.
To check out Jonathan Tannenwald's live blog from tonight's Villanova-Texas men's basketball game
at Madison Square Garden (9:30, ESPN), go to http://go.philly.com/pretzel.