Wildcats to Host Mount St. Mary’s in Opener Tuesday

09 Dec 2021 | 10:26 | Basketball

VILLANOVA, Pa. – Villanova is set to open a new basketball season Tuesday afternoon at Finneran Pavilion when it hosts Mount St. Mary’s at 4:30 p.m. The early start time kicks off FS1’s whip-around coverage of the opening day of BIG EAST basketball. The Villanova/Mount St. Mary’s matchup is the only one that is certain to air in its entirety.

Aaron Goldsmith and Bill Raftery will describe the action on for FS1 while Ryan Fannon and Whitey Rigsby have the call on the IHeart Philadelphia Radio Villanova network (FOX Sports Radio Philadelphia on 1480 AM, 102.5 FM (translator W273DO) and 104.5 HD2).

As a new campaign begins after one spent in the shadow of COVID-19, Villanova head coach Jay Wright said he feels an extra dose of excitement as he prepares for his 21st season at the helm of the Wildcats.

“I know I’m excited and our players are excited,” stated Wright on a Zoom call with members of the media after a practice Monday morning. “Having fans in the Finn for Blue/White Scrimmage and Hoops Mania last month, you really felt the energy.”

Villanova expects to welcome a capacity crowd – the norm for two decades prior to last season’s empty arena due to COVID-19 – inside Finneran Pavilion Tuesday (6,501). Per CDC guidelines and Villanova University’s indoor protocols, masked are required to be worn inside the facility except when actively eating or drinking.

Mount St. Mary’s won the Northeast Conference title to send the program to its sixth NCAA Tournament appearance last March. The Mount fell to Texas Southern 60-52 in the NCAA Tournament last season and was picked third in the preseason NEC poll ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.

“This is a really good Mount St. Mary’s team,” noted Wright. “We have great respect for them. They have a veteran team and will be a great test for us.”

Wright reported that freshman forward Nnanna Njoku has logged two practice sessions after a five week absence due to a concussion and dehydration. He is available Tuesday night. Junior guard Bryan Antoine continues to recover from a right knee injury suffered in September. Wright said the New Jersey native remains several weeks away from resuming game action.

Senior guard Caleb Daniels is also ready to go for the Wildcats. Projected starters include Collin Gillespie, Justin Moore, Jermaine Samuels, Brandon Slater and Eric Dixon. This would be the second career start for Slater, who stepped into the starting lineup last Jan. 19 vs. Seton Hall. Dixon has yet to make his first collegiate start.

“This goes all the way back to Brandon’s freshman year,” said Wright. “He’s handled every challenge he’s faced in his college career and that’s earned him the respect of everybody in the program – from players to coaches to managers. His gradual progression of getting better every day as a Villanova Basketball player got to the point where it just evolved this summer that he was one of the top five players in the program.”

The Wildcats begin the new season ranked at No. 4 in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls. They are also the preseason favorite in the BIG EAST Conference.

Tuesday’s late afternoon matinee kicks off a busy week for Villanova. The Wildcats are scheduled to depart Wednesday afternoon for Los Angeles, where they will face No. 2 UCLA at Pauley Pavilion at 11:30 p.m. eastern (ESPN2 and IHeart Philadelphia Villanova Radio Network).

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