Saint Josephs comes into their Big 5 rivalry game with a 7-3 record, one of their best starts in recent years. Their three losses include an 8-point loss to Seton Hall and a double-overtime lose to a very good Iona squad. The highlight early on, however, was their win on Saturday over a Creighton team that was ranked 19th (now 24th). Now the Hawks will try to beat Villanova for the first time since 2007-08 this weekend.
They will have at least one advantage that they have never had before — for the first time in the series, Villanova will take the court on Hawk Hill. Though the series started in 1921, Villanova has never played at the tiny Hagan Arena in any of the 68 prior meetings (Villanova leads the series 44-24). St. Joes has opted to play more home games on campus this season, however, in hopes that the move will create more excitement around the program.
The resurgent Hawks are led on the scoreboard by Carl Jones, a 5-11 junior guard who averages an impressive 19.4 points per game. Jones adds 3.8 rebounds, 3.2 assist and 1.8 steals per game and has connected on 40.6% of his 3-point attempts while being the teams most consistent free-throw shooter. His 91% free throw percentage is all the more impressive since he has attempted significantly more of those shots than his teammates.
His 6-2 backcourt-mate, sophomore Langston Galloway, is second on the team in scoring with 15.6 points per game and is the best 3-point shooter on the team, connecting on 46.6% of his attempts (while leading the team in attempts).
The other two Hawks averaging double-digit scoring are sophomore forwards C.J. Aiken and Ronald Roberts, Jr., who have averaged 11.3 and 10.4 points respectively. Roberts is also the teams second-leading rebounder with 5.7 per game. The 6-8 forward, Halil Kanacevic, is the top rebounder averaging over 6.1 rebounds per game coming off a redshirt season after transferring from Hofstra.
The Hawks rank third in the nation for blocked shots with an average of 8.2 per game, and have the nations leader in that category in Aiken. Their defense overall is ranked 111th in efficiency, largely because they have struggled generating turnovers and with 3-point defense.
Unless Villanovas shooters hit a hot-streak on Saturday, however, St. Joes 3-point defense wont be much of an issue.
On the offensive end, St. Joes shoots about 39.2% as a team from beyond the arc, but has two players (Jones and Galloway) who are connecting on over 40% of their shots from deep and 3 who have connected on more than one-third. That means that the Hawks offense, ranked 56th in the nation, could be a handful for a Villanova defense that remains unproven against solid outside shooting.
Villanova is, however, coming off of their best defensive performance of the season. Holding Boston University well under their average offensive efficiency. BU was not a great shooting team, however, and might be one of the worst outside shooting teams that Villanova has faced.
The Wildcats defense will need to continue to progress and learn to cover perimeter shooters.
With the Hawks two primary deep threats at the guard positions, it might make sense for Villanova to start Ty Johnson and Ash Yacoubou again in this game. Both are athletic guards with a long wingspan who have shown some defensive spark in the early going. That likely means putting Dominic Cheek and James Bell on the bench to start the game again, but both were still available for solid minutes against Boston University.
Offensively, it wont be easy for the Cats to get the ball inside to Mouph Yarou. The Hawks arent likely to be afraid of Nova s shooters and will concentrate their efforts on keeping Yarou well covered. They have four forwards who clock in at 6-8 or taller, including Kanacevic who weighs in at 258lbs. The Hawks will use those bodies to rotate against Yarou and wear him down.
That means that the play of the other Villanova bigs will be increasingly important. Crashing the boards for rebounds and providing a scoring option inside the arc will allow the Cats to survive even if Yarou is marginalized. The Beninese center may still get his 10-plus points and a good number of boards, but if he gets into foul trouble or tires late in the game, Villanova will have to go to another option.
Usually that option has been Maalik Wayns, who has averaged 17.8 points per game and leads the team in assists by a large margin with 4.9 per contest. When Wayns is on fire, there is little to be done to contain him, however, sometimes he falls in love with his outside shot a bit more than he should. He connects on just 29.4% of those attempts, and should work more on getting to the free throw line where he is second on the team, shooting 85.5%, and leads the team in attempts.
Overall this is a game that Villanova emcould /em win, but not one where they are an overwhelming favorite. In fact, KenPom.com predicts that the Wildcats will lose the game by one point. On a neutral court or at the Pavilion, the Cats might be a slight favorite. In any case it could be a very close game, unless the Wildcats find a solution to their 3-point defensive struggles and shout down the St. Joes backcourt.
The game will tip-off from Hagan Arena at St. Josephs University at 8pm on Saturday, December 17, and will be televised live on the CBS College Sports Network.
Updated (12:29p): According to Mike's sources, Mo Sutton has returned to practice with the team and is expected to be available for Saturday.
**This article on the Holy War has been sponsored by Pro Dunk Hoops.**