Even though Villanova hosts its next two opponents and neither is off to an impressive start, those games certainly won’t be overlooked by the Big East’s only unbeaten team.
The first of back-to-back matchups with longtime rivals takes place Sunday when the seventh-ranked Wildcats continue their Big 5 slate against Temple.
Villanova (9-0) follows this contest with next Saturday’s game against former Big East rival Syracuse, which has won four of five meetings. The Orange were ranked for all of those games but won’t be for the upcoming matchup, entering Sunday with a 5-3 record following back-to-back losses.
The Wildcats, however, are more focused on Temple (6-3) and a game between Philadelphia’s top programs. The Owls, who lost by 20 to Duke in their only matchup with a ranked team, had won three of four meetings with Villanova before losing 90-74 on Feb. 1.
“I know people are sick of hearing this, but we really do look at it one game at a time,” coach Jay Wright told Villanova’s official website. “When you start looking ahead, that’s when you get beaten. We have Temple next. We are putting everything into Temple. That’s really the way we do it.”
The Owls are rounding out their Big 5 schedule, having edged La Salle and Penn by a combined 10 points but losing to Saint Joseph’s. The Wildcats, who visit Penn on Jan. 17, routed La Salle and Saint Joe’s by a combined 42 points before beating a previously ranked Illinois team 73-59 on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
Villanova held the Illini to 41.0 percent shooting and has limited its last six opponents to 37.2.
“They’re a really good defensive team,” Owls coach Fran Dunphy said. “There’s a bunch of things I’m concerned about.”
Temple is among the nation’s worst shooting teams at 36.4 percent overall, including 25.8 from 3-point range.
“It’s just a matter of being confident and keeping your poise about you and shooting the right shots,” Dunphy said.
The Wildcats have one of the Big East’s top 3-point shooters in Tyler Ennis, who has made 20 of 43 from beyond the arc and averages a team-leading 12.9 points. Ennis, 7 of 11 on 3-pointers this month, scored 18 against Illinois.
“He is a very intelligent person,” Wright said. “As a basketball player, he really enjoyed using his athleticism, his speed, his aggressiveness. He probably didn’t appreciate his basketball IQ as much. His basketball IQ has grown.”
Part of that may be due to unselfishness with Ennis, who has 20 assists over the past four games after totaling eight through the first five. He’s among eight Wildcats averaging between seven and 13 points.
“It’s never one guy taking over the game,” Ennis said. “I think that’s what’s so great about us. We play as a team no matter if we are up or down, or in a tie game.”
Ennis was among five Wildcats to score in double figures against Temple in February.
The Owls don’t have the same kind of balance, with guards Will Cummings and Quenton DeCosey doing the bulk of their scoring. Cummings and DeCosey, who combined for 42 points last season against Villanova, are averaging 14.9 and 14.3, respectively.
That duo totaled 38 points in Wednesday’s 76-64 win over Towson, shooting 6 for 24 from the field but hitting 24 of 28 at the foul line. Cummings has shot 23.1 percent from the floor in three games this month and is 7 for 35 from 3-point range this season.