La Salle has lost their last eight meetings with the Villanova Wildcats. Their last meeting was an 81-63 'Cats win at the Pavilion, and Aaric Murray, then a freshman, scored 15 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked two shots for the Explorers.
This season the Explorers and their highly-rated forward are 6-3 coming into the game and have played each of their nine opponents closely. Of their three losses, two have been at the hands of ranked opponents -- #17 Baylor and #12 Missouri. The third loss was a 92-87 home loss to Oklahoma State in double-overtime.
The 'Cats will make the short trip to Tom Gola arena on Sunday for a game that Ken Pomeroy predicts will be a 79-69 Villanova win (with 83% chance of victory for the 'Cats). It is the second-consecutive Big 5 away game for Villanova.*
La Salle averages 78.2 points per game and 16.6 of those are contributed by Aaric Murray, who also leads the team in rebounding with 8.9 per game. This is no one-man team, however, the Explorers have four players who average double-digit scoring.
Second on the team is senior guard Ruben Guillandeaux, who contributes 15.9 points and 3.1 assists per game. Third is senior forward Jerrell Williams with 13.5 points and 8 rebounds per game. Finally, Rutgers transfer Earl Pettis averages 10.2 points, 3 assists and 1.2 steals per contest for La Salle.
The team is shooting 48.6% from the field, with Murray (55.9%) and Pettis (51.4%) leading the way. When it comes to the 3-point arc, Guillandeaux is the marksman, connecting on 46.9% of his shots from downtown, while the team is making 37.6% of those shots overall.
It appears that the Explorers have a tendency to make mistakes. They average 16 assists per game while turning the ball over an average of 16.6 times.
The Wildcats need strong defensive play from their big men to help keep Murray under control. Stokes or Cheek will likely be responsible for keeping a hand in Guillandeaux's face during the game as well.
It will also help the Wildcats to continue to protect the ball. So far Villanova has averaged 16.5 assists and 10.8 turnovers per game. Remove two of the worst assist/turnover performances by the Wayns/Fisher combination this season and that ratio likely looks even stronger.
Protecting the rock is only part of the equation -- the other two factors are defense and rebounding. Defense has been strong this season so far -- ranked 28th by Ken Pomeroy -- but needs to improve more over the course of the season. Rebounding is a battle that the 'Cats are used to winning averaging 45.6 rebounds to their opponents' 37.9.
If Stokes has a few more big games in him, the 'Cats look really tough to beat.
Look for a bounce-back performance from Corey Fisher, who had bad games against Tennessee and Penn this season, and started the Penn game on the bench. The 'Cats need their senior point guard to lead this team on the court on a nightly basis. If not, the load will have to be shouldered by Antonio Pena and Corey Stokes, who showed a ton of leadership on Wednesday, if only on the scoresheet.
La Salle may rarely win this match-up, but they have played the 'Cats close more than a few times. With their young star a year older and their roster much healthier than last year, the 'Cats should be careful heading into the Explorers' house.
The game tips off from Tom Gola Arena on Sunday at 2:00pm. Television coverage will be provided by ESPNU.
Don't forget to get your guesses in for Ed's Closest to the Pin contest.
* Back in the day, when every Big 5 game was hosted at the Palestra, there were no Big 5 away games.