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Penn men's basketball will need strong play from its front court if it is going to defeat Villanova for the first time in 16 years.

Credit: Ananya Chandra

It has been more than 15 years since Penn men’s basketball last defeated Villanova. Could this be the year the Quakers break the losing streak? It very well might be — the reigning national champion Wildcats have shown major vulnerabilities early on this season, and Penn is off to its best start in years. Here are three keys to the game if the Red and Blue are going to pull off the upset at home and prevent No. 17 Villanova from winning its sixth straight Big 5 title.

Three-point shooting

Even after the season-ending injury of three-point specialist Ryan Betley, the Quakers have proven they can shoot lights out from deep. Entering Tuesday night’s game, Penn ranks 31st in the country in shooting percentage from beyond the arc at 39 percent, and Villanova sits way below that at 172nd. 

If freshman forward Michael Wang catches fire like he has in Penn’s last two games, and other shooters like Jake Silpe, Bryce Washington, and Devon Goodman also get hot, the Wildcats might have trouble keeping pace. Add in the fact that few things get a home crowd going like a quick barrage of threes, and it seems like shooting could be even more important for Penn as few arenas can match the home court advantage provided by a raucous Palestra.

Neutralize the paint

For the last three seasons, junior forward AJ Brodeur has been Penn’s most consistent player. In the past, he has more than held his own in several heavyweight matchups against other dominant big men, and he’ll need to do so again against Villanova forward Eric Paschall to give Penn a chance.

Listed at 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds, Paschall is one of the most physically imposing players in all of college basketball, and he has the ability to score from the perimeter as well. Brodeur doesn’t necessarily need to win his matchup against Paschall, but if he can’t at least neutralize the paint, it could be a long night for the Red and Blue.

Stay true to themselves

From the top to the bottom of the roster, it’s clear which of these two teams has more talent. And while the matchup has the looks of a potential trap game for Villanova with No. 1 Kansas next up on the Wildcats’ schedule, you shouldn’t expect Villanova coach Jay Wright to let his team overlook the Quakers. After all, Penn is coming off a blowout win on the road against La Salle, a team that gave Villanova a real scare in the Palestra just over a week ago.

But none of that means Penn won’t be able to compete. The talent disparity isn’t insurmountable, and the Quakers have looked close to unstoppable at home so far this season, winning all four of their games by at least 14 points. The team’s energy will surely be high with the defending champions visiting, but the Red and Blue can’t let the moment be too big for them. The Quakers need to play within themselves, and stay true to what they have done so far this year.