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Preview: No. 24 Princeton, Villanova clash in battle that could be for ranked status

The Princeton Tigers are barely in the rankings and the Villanova Wildcats are barely out.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament Championship-UConn vs Villanova
Maddy Siegrist (with ball) led Villanova with 21 points in the team’s opener.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 24 Princeton Tigers (1-0, 0-0 Ivy) are feeling good right now. They are the first Ivy League team to ever be ranked in the preseason and the sky, or, well, maybe the Sweet Sixteen, is the limit. But as No. 5 Tennessee found out on Tuesday, challenging early-season games can deflate the positive energy surrounding a program in a heartbeat. Not that Tennessee’s loss to No. 14 Ohio State was that bad or that Princeton losing to the Villanova Wildcats (receiving votes) Friday night (ESPN+) would be a bad loss, but a first loss so early in the season is never easy to stomach.

Princeton watched its former superstar Abby Meyers put up 19 points for No. 17 Maryland on Monday and will certainly miss her. Julia Cunningham, Ellie Mitchell, Kaitlyn Chen and Grace Stone, the returning core that backed up Meyers last year, will be put to the test against Villanova. Expect them to have their hands full, though they are the favorite and the home team in the contest.

The Wildcats (1-0, 0-0 Big East) went to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year — the same distance Princeton achieved — and were picked to finish third in the Big East this year. They have the reigning and preseason Player of the Year in Maddy Siegrist, a talent who can single-handedly carry a team. She was second in the country with 25.3 points per game last year.

Siegrist is joined by Penn State transfer Maddie Burke, who is expected to be one of the team’s other top players. However, Burke was held to six points, zero rebounds and one assist in Villanova’s opener against Marist. Lucy Olsen, another key player for Villanova, was more successful with eight points, nine rebounds, six assists and two steals.

But the real story of the Wildcats’ opener were the 13 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks that came from sophomore Christina Dalce, who didn’t contribute much as a freshman. Per Her Hoop Stats, since 2009-10, Villanova has only seen four performances of at least 13 points and 17 rebounds and only one performance (Dalce’s) of at least 17 rebounds and five blocks.

Princeton also got a big-time double-double in its opener: Mitchell had 12 points and 15 rebounds. Cunningham (13 points, nine rebounds, five assists, two steals, two blocks) and Chen (14 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two blocks) also put up solid stat lines.

Both teams got wins, but both scored in the 60s, so look for them to really focus on improving offensively Friday night.

Villanova has a chance to enter the rankings if it wins, seeing as the three teams between it and Princeton will not have faced a ranked opponent by the end of the week.

Game Information

Villanova Wildcats (1-0, 0-0 Big East) vs. No. 24 Princeton Tigers (1-0, 0-0 Ivy)

When: Friday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Jadwin Gymnasium in Princeton, N.J.

How to watch/listen: ESPN+

Key to the matchup: 3-point shooting. Both teams need to be better at it. Villanova went 3-of-22 in its opener at Marist. The Wildcats weren’t very efficient at 3-point shooting last year, ranking in the 90th percentile in made threes but the 54th percentile in percentage (30.9), per Her Hoop Stats. Maddy Siegrist is their best returning 3-point shooter and she went 0-of-3 against Marist. She’ll need to knock some shots down from long-range if she wants her team to beat Princeton. The Tigers fared better from distance last season (89th percentile at 34.6 percent), but lost their best 3-point shooter, Abby Meyers, to Maryland and went 1-of-13 in their season-opening win over Temple. Their second-best sharpshooter from a year ago, Julia Cunningham, went 0-of-5.