Lehigh faces tall task in opener against No. 12 Villanova

Nov 14, 2014 - 4:32 PM Allentown, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - In a matchup of Keystone State squads, the 12th-ranked Villanova Wildcats square off with the Lehigh Mountain Hawks at the PPL Center.

Last season was a lost one for the Mountain Hawks, who finished just 14-18 overall -- their worst record since 2007 and just their second finish below .500 in seven seasons under Brett Reed. They were especially weak down the stretch, losing six of their final seven games, although they were far from NCAA Tournament worthy before that point. Reed is still 129-91 as the head coach at Lehigh, with three 20-win seasons to his credit, so expectations for an improvement are prevalent.

While Lehigh toiled away in obscurity, Villanova was front and center in the national spotlight from the first month of the season. The Wildcats pulled off upsets of Kansas and Iowa early on and never looked back, rolling all the way to the Big East Conference regular-season title and a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Their national championship hopes died early though, as they fell to eventual title winner Connecticut in the third round, but it was still a rousing success for a program just two years removed from a 13-19 finish.

With a much more storied and successful basketball history, it should come as no surprise that Villanova leads the all-time series with Lehigh (9-4). The Wildcats really illustrated their dominance in the last meeting, when they ran away with an 84-47 victory during the 2005-06 season.

Beyond the recent success Lehigh has had under Reed, the fact that the program has four starters back also lends itself to optimistic expectations for this season. Of course, experience won't make a difference if the Mountain Hawks continue to struggle to score points. Although they were not the worst team in the Patriot League in terms of offensive success last season, they only averaged 66.3 ppg, while shooting 43.2 percent from the field. Becoming more efficient will be difficult without leading scorer and distributor Mackey McKnight (13.5 ppg, 6 apg), but the rest of the lineup is filled with proven commodities. Tim Kempton (13 ppg, 7.1 rpg) is the best of the bunch and coming off an award-winning freshman campaign. Jesse Chuku (8.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Corey Schaefer (8.3 ppg, 2.5 apg) and Austin Price (8.4 ppg) are all back as well.

Villanova is in a similar state as Lehigh, as it needs to replace leading scorer James Bell (14.4 ppg), but remains largely intact otherwise. Darrun Hilliard (14.3 ppg) is now the go-to guy at the offensive end, although athletic forward JayVaughn Pinkston (14.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg) will be given plenty of scoring chances as well. Running the team from the point will be Ryan Arcidiacono (9.9 ppg, 3.5 apg), who has steadily improved in his first two seasons and has shown a penchant for hitting big shots. Daniel Ochefu (5.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg) started 31 games last season and could have a larger role this time around. He impressed in the preseason, especially in the team's final exhibition contest when he scored 11 points and ripped down 20 rebounds. In all, there are plenty of components back to ensure Villanova continues to score at a high rate (78 ppg, second in the Big East), while maintaining strength on defense (.405 opponent field goal percentage) and on the glass (37.1 rpg, first in the Big East).

No one has shouted yet.
Be the first!