In the Bahamas, Villanova just keeps running into teams with which it has significant history.
On Thursday, the Wildcats topped No. 14 North Carolina, the team Villanova bested in the 2016 NCAA Tournament final. On Friday, in the championship game for the Battle 4 Atlantis, Villanova will face Memphis — the program it topped in the 1985 Final Four on its way to its first national title.
Back then, current Villanova coach Kyle Neptune was just a few months old. And current Memphis coach Penny Hardaway was only 13 when an eighth-seeded Wildcats squad powered by Ed Pickney beat the second-seeded Tigers 52-45 in Lexington, Ky.
The Wildcats (5-1) and the Tigers (5-0) haven’t met all that often. Villanova has the advantage in the all-time series with an 8-4 record. The squads last met in a regular-season clash in Philadelphia in 2004, when the Tigers won 73-57.
This year, both sides are off to solid starts. Villanova has now beaten three straight Power 5 opponents — Maryland, Texas Tech and No. 14 North Carolina — after losing to city rival Penn on Nov. 13. Memphis is undefeated and has topped Michigan and No. 20 Arkansas this week in the Bahamas.
While both are currently unranked, the winner of Villanova vs. Memphis likely will find itself in the Top 25 next week.
For the Wildcats to get an 83-81 win over the Tar Heels in overtime on Thursday, they needed a heavy dose of Eric Dixon. The 6-foot-8 senior surpassed the 1,000-point mark for his career as he scored a career-best 34 points on 11-of-19 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds.
“It’s amazing because we played a bunch of games early where teams just double-teamed him,” Neptune said of Dixon. “You can see why they doubled him now. He’s really hard to deal with down there. Bigger guys, smaller guys, it really doesn’t matter. We’re lucky he’s on our team.”
Villanova also got 16 points from Justin Moore in the victory. Through six games this season, he leads the Wildcats in scoring at 16.3 points per game while Dixon averages 14.5. Dixon and Tyler Burton both average 7.5 rebounds per game, and Moore leads in assists at 2.3 per contest.
Memphis needed a career-high performance from one of its players as well to top the Razorbacks 84-79, as David Jones poured in 36 points. Jones, a 6-foot-6 senior, hit 10 of 14 shots from the floor and was 4 of 8 on 3-point attempts.
“This man here,” Jones said, patting Hardaway on the back, when asked how he scored the way he did. “He gave us all the confidence in the world to just go out and play hard.”
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman credited Jones, saying: “He did whatever he wanted to do. He made a name for himself tonight.”
The Tigers won despite grabbing just 24 rebounds — nine fewer than Arkansas — but made up for it by forcing the Razorbacks into 18 turnovers, which Memphis flipped into 27 points.
Jones leads the Tigers in scoring this season with 18.8 points per game. Jaykwon Walton, who scored 11 points against Arkansas, averages 12 points.
Having transferred to Memphis in the offseason from St. John’s — and playing at another Big East school, DePaul, before that — Jones knows Villanova well. He has faced the Wildcats four times previously, averaging 6.5 points.