Villanova may not have the most challenging non-conference schedule, but coach Jay Wright just wants his team to prepare for Big East play.
On Wednesday night, the No. 23 Wildcats go for their 18th straight victory at the Pavilion when they meet Niagara in the Philly Hoop Group Classic.
Villanova, which plays its first eight games in the Philadelphia area before facing No. 7 Texas on Dec. 9 at Madison Square Garden, improved to 2-0 on Monday with a 107-68 victory over Fordham.
“As long as everybody else stays healthy, this (schedule) is good for us,” said Wright, whose team defeated Albany by 18 in its season opener on Friday.
Everything was good for senior Dante Cunningham, who scored 19 of his career-high 31 points in the first half against Fordham. His previous high was 21 - most recently against Seton Hall on Feb. 9.
“I think I’ve just been working a lot more on understanding where the shots are coming from on the court,” said Cunningham, who made 11-of-17 shots and added 11 rebounds for his sixth career double-double. “I was just comfortable out there.”
Cunningham is averaging team highs of 22.0 points and 8.5 rebounds.
Sophomore guard Corey Stokes hit all three of his shots from 3-point range and scored 17 points Monday, while Corey Fisher went 2-for-4 from beyond the arc and also had 17.
Villanova is shooting 44.8 percent from 3-point range.
After getting arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Nov. 6, senior forward Shane Clark scored eight points in 16 minutes off the bench. He was expected to miss up to six weeks.
“He said he was good, he looked good,” Wright said. “He’s so smart and experienced. He does all the little things. It was great to have him out there.”
Clark’s former roommate at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., Bilal Benn, faces the Wildcats for the first time since transferring to Niagara after the 2006-07 season. Benn, who averaged 1.6 points and 1.2 rebounds in two seasons at Villanova, had six points and 11 rebounds in his Niagara debut on Sunday as the Purple Eagles (1-0) defeated Towson 79-62.
Six-foot junior guard Tyrone Lewis had 20 points and six assists, and was one off the school record with eight blocks. Benson Egemonye posted a double-double with 14 points and 16 rebounds, while Rob Garrison added 14 points and seven assists for Niagara, which held the Tigers to 30.4 percent shooting.
“We really played hard,” Niagara coach Joe Mihalich told the school’s official Web site. “We were tough and our competitive level was high. I would hate to play against these guys when they are guarding like they did tonight.”
Taking on Villanova could be more challenging - the Wildcats are shooting 56.8 percent from the field.
This is the first matchup since Niagara defeated Villanova 61-52 on Jan. 5, 1976.
The Wildcats continue play in the Philly Hoop Group Classic next Tuesday with a matchup against Monmouth at the Pavilion before concluding the tournament with a pair of games at the Palestra over Thanksgiving weekend.