It's been almost a week since Villanova beat Ole Miss to add that ESPN-logo-ed trophy to our collection. With plenty of rest, Villanova returns to the Pavillion to face Big 5 'rival' La Salle at 3:30 pm.
La Salle is traditionally the weakest of the Big 5 schools. While Villanova leads the way with 18 titles*, La Salle has only won the round-robin series eight times, their last coming a decade ago in the 1989-1990 season.
This season the Explorers are 3-1, with wins over Hampton, (a Curry-less) Davidson and Tulane. They finished fifth in the Charleston Classic after their win on Sunday. They have four players averaging double digit points (a fifth has 9.5 PPG). Explorers star guard Rodney Green leads the team in points (20), rebounds (7.8), and steals (2.2 per game). Green had his worst scoring game so far on Sunday against Tulane, shooting 3 of 8 from the field for 13 points. In his last game against Villanova he scored 16 and added 6 rebounds.
La Salle added freshman Center Aaric Murray, a 6'10" four-star recruit (and ESPNU Top-100 member), who is averaging 10 ppg, 6.5 rpg and 1.8 blocks. As a freshman he can be assumed to be a little rough around the edges (pulling down 5 and 3 rebounds in his last two games - though he only played 15 minutes against Tulane). Nonetheless, he is second in rebounding and the best shot-blocker on the team.
Their frontcourt is deep (especially if 6'9" Forward Vernon Goodrich is able to successfully petition the NCAA for eligibility this year), the Explorers have 6 options inside, all of whom are taller than 6'6". The backcourt has two seniors starting, in Green and Ruben Guillandeaux (9.5 ppg, 0.8 rpg, 3.3 ast) and 6'6" senior guard Kimmani Barrett coming off the bench. Despite his experience Green has been unreliable as a point guard, averaging slightly more turnovers (2.8) than assists (2.5) so far this season, and last year was his only year with more assists than turnovers (105/100). La Salle could eventually turn to 6'2" freshman Parrish Grant to run the point if Green proves unable.
La Salle has lost their last thirteen games against ranked opponents (and Villanova has certainly contributed to that streak). Villanova has won 19 of the last 20 games against Big 5 rivals, and leads the all-time series against La Salle 32-26, and have won the last seven meetings by an average of 15 points.
Villanova should win this game by a healthy margin with or without Yarou.
And don't forget to submit your entries for Ed's Closest to the Pin contest, and check back here for a live-blog of the game tomorrow.
* I purposely didn't count the round-robin-less years in the 90s, even though Wikipedia counts them. If you include those years, La Salle has 10 titles, Villanova has 20, and Temple leads the way with 24 (including shared titles).