Villanova enters the first game of its Big 5 slate with an unblemished 6-0 record and a Preseason NIT title under it's belt. Meanwhile, the Saint Josephs Hawks are 4-1, and will have the advantage of their intimate on-campus Hagan Arena.
The Wildcats were challenged in games against Stanford and Georgia Tech in Brooklyn. They didn't have the best results from deep during their Thanksgiving tournament, but played stifling defense to help hold back the Pac-12 and ACC programs and lock down the hardware. They are rated the top defensive team in the country by KenPom.com so far this season, which has allowed them to overcome stretches of poor shooting and a losing battle on the glass so far.
St. Joe's only loss this season came on November 21st, when they suffered an 11-point loss to the Florida Gators in the Naismith Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament. The Hawks rebounded from the disappointment by edging out Old Dominion, 66-64, a day later. Though the Hawks have already faced off with Philadelphia's Drexel Dragons, the Holy War will be the first real Big 5 game for both programs this season.
Here's what to look out for in Tuesday's game:
The Hawks haven't been efficient on offense
This offense relies on 6-7 Forward Isaiah Miles and 6-6 Forward DeAndre Bembry to make their offense work. With a comfortable win over Buffalo as an outlier, the Hawks four wins have been by an average of a little over six points. They edged Drexel by one, and had a similarly-tight margin of two points over ODU as well. They check in at 121st in the nation for offensive efficiency and have an effective field goal percentage of just 48.4 so far this season.
Bembry plays a lot of minutes for the Hawks because of this and uses nearly a quarter of the team's possessions. He has also been a focus for opposing defenders, which has allowed Miles to be a dangerous scoring threat with a 64.3% effective field goal percentage, and a team-leading 17 points per game. The Hawks aren't lacking players who can score, but they haven't seemed to find their rhythm yet this season, and it will be the Wildcats' goal to disrupt their progress in that department.
Defensively, the Hawks could be a challenge
Technically speaking, St. Joes is only the second-best rated defense that the Wildcats have faced so far (at 67th on Ken Pom), behind Akron (40th). The Ohio MAC entry held the 'Cats to 75 points at home, and the Hawks have similarly held most of their opponents in the 60s, save for Florida (74) and their season opener against Drexel (81). They rate a little higher than Nebraska; and in a slow-tempo game on a hostile court, the Wildcats could be challenged to make shots.
If the SJU defense is getting stops and changing shots, Villanova will have to make up the difference in hustle. The 'Cats struggled on the glass against Georgia Tech and Stanford, but they will need to outwork the Hawks on missed shots to gain second chances and keep the momentum swinging in their direction.
Phil Martelli is going to be around for a while
Saint Joseph's has had its ups and downs in the last 21 years under head coach Phil Martelli, but the ups have been pretty good. The Hawks' administration realized that when they sat down with the coach before the season began and agreed to a multi-year extension that will likely keep him on Hawk Hill for the foreseeable future.
That fact is an important one for this rivalry. For two teams from different conferences, there is rarely as much familiarity between the programs. In this case, Jay Wright has looked over to the other bench to see Martelli at least once per season for his entire career. The coaches have had plenty of time to learn the others' tendencies and preferred tactics; which makes the rivalry one that will never be a game that can be looked-past.