Villanova knows its 8-0 start has been achieved in comfortable fashion in its home area of Philadelphia and at the expense of lesser opponents.
That all changes Tuesday when the Wildcats travel to Madison Square Garden for the Jimmy V Classic to face No. 6 Texas, which will be playing its third top 15 team of the young season.
The 15th-ranked Wildcats are off to their best start since going 10-0 in 2005-06, but have yet to face a school from a major conference. They have won each game by at least 13 points and have played all their games either on their home court or nearby at The Palestra, where they won two games as part of the Philly Hoop Group Classic and defeated Big 5 rival Pennsylvania.
“We’re 8-0, who knows what that means? Thirty teams could be better,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said after Thursday’s 93-57 rout of Division I newcomer Houston Baptist. “We could talk about it all we want. We’re going to know where we are.”
Wright, though, has reason to be confident after Scottie Reynolds snapped a season-long offensive funk with a season-high 23 points. The junior guard, who entered the game averaging 12.7 points on 34.0 percent shooting after scoring a team-high 15.9 per game last season, isn’t concerned about the outside perceptions of Villanova’s fast start.
“A lot of people say we haven’t really had a test, we haven’t really played anybody,” said Reynolds, who had 26 points and six assists as a freshman in a 76-69 win over Texas on Jan. 20, 2007. “I think every time we step on the floor we have the mind-set that we’re playing for each other, we’re playing for our coaches.”
While the Wildcats have dominated the Philadelphia scene, Texas (6-1) will have played on both ends of the country after this contest. The Longhorns finished third at the Maui Invitational last month in Hawaii - losing to then-No. 8 Notre Dame 81-80 in the semifinals - and are coming off a rugged 68-64 win over then-No. 12 UCLA on Thursday.
A.J. Abrams hit five 3-pointers - including one that snapped a 62-all tie with 2:53 to play - and matched his career high with 31 points as Texas won its third in a row since falling to the Irish.
“Coming back from the Notre Dame and winning one like this was big for us,” Longhorns coach Rick Barnes said. “Our guys made plays at the end. When we get settled into our defense, we’re a pretty hard team to score against. … We talked about going out there to scrap.”
Abrams got help in the frontcourt from Damion James, who added 13 points and 13 rebounds for his third double-double in the last four games. The 6-foot-7 James, along with 6-10 Dexter Pittman and 6-10 Connor Atchley, will try to slow 6-foot-8 Dante Cunningham, who is averaging team highs of 17.3 points and 8.0 rebounds for Villanova.
Abrams, who is averaging 18.0 points and is Texas’ all-time leader with 308 3-pointers, hit five shots from beyond the arc and finished with 19 points in the 2007 loss to the Wildcats. He went 0-for-5 from the field in the only other meeting between the teams, a 58-55 win by Texas in the 2005-06 season.