La Salle has been working hard to dig themselves out of a deep Atlantic 10 and Big 5 hole, and the 2-1 Explorers could punctuate those efforts with a win tomorrow afternoon. Villanova, meanwhile is trying to pull the shoot on a free-fall from the rarified air of the 2009 Final Four that seemed to reach new struggles earlier this week as the 'Cats found themselves unable to overpower their Ivy League opponent, Columbia, at home.
La Salle enters the contest with some momentum, coming off of an away victory at the University of Hartford, and also were victorious in their season opener at home against a Delaware squad that was expected to challenge for the CAA title.
"They have a lot of different ways they can play, which makes it tough to prepare," said Villanova head coach Jay Wright of the Explorers. "They can play two forwards and three guards or one forward and four guards. It's going to be a tough game and I know that place is going to be rocking."
The Explorers are led by forward Jerrell Wright, who has averaged 15.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game this season. Point guard Tyreek Duren is second on the team in scoring with 13.0 ppg and Steve Zack, with 8.7 ppg and 5.3 rebounds per game, will be asked to match up with Mouph Yarou and Daniel Ochefu in the paint.
The Wildcats should be able to match up with the Explorers at most spots on the floor, but Freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono, and the team generally, will need to cut down on the turnovers that have plagued them early this season. Against Columbia, the Wildcats coughed the ball up 12 times in the first half alone (and 16 for the game) as they dug themselves a hole too deep to climb out of.
"Our turnovers and missed free throws early just killed us. It's hard to come from behind when you're down 10 against a team like that," Wright said after the game.
Villanova has also struggled with perimeter defense, and that is something where La Salle's Ramon Galloway and Sam Mills can do some damage. The Wildcats need to tune up their man-defense to ensure that those two in particular aren't left with a clear look a the basket — especially with no other Explorers doing significant damage from the perimeter this season.
It would also be good for Villanova to work harder on offense and use the shot clock to find a better shot, rather than settling for long jumpers early on. The 'Cats have averaged almost 20 three-point attempts per game, and while Jay Wright has issued a directive to his players to not shy away from shooting the ball, they do need to exercise better shot-selection. The Wildcats rank 230th in Division 1 basketball in three-point percentage and 121st in Division 1 for most three-point attempts.
Villanova isn't a team that lacks players who could score inside, nor is it a team that is so adept at finding open shots on the perimeter that such volume should be attempted from there. Kentucky, which is perennially one of the nation's most talented teams, has attempted over 30 fewer shots from behind the arc this season in the same number of games. While deep shooting will help stretch a defense, once the defense is stretched out to the perimeter, it is important to use the advantage that gives you inside.
Even with down-years and sloppy play, however, the Wildcats have rarely lost their Big 5 rivalry to La Salle. Villanova leads the all-time series against the Explorers 35-26 and has won the last 10 meetings. The last two have been close, however, with less than 10 points separating the teams, with last season's meeting carrying into overtime.