Big 5 action returns to the Pavilion on Sunday evening, smack dab in the middle of finals for the student body. With the La Salle Explorers on campus and Villanova already offering single-game tickets, the atmosphere might not be what the Wildcats are used to. Add in the fact that almost everybody is looking ahead to next weekend's trip to Virginia and you have the recipe for a weird night. But this appears to be an overmatched opponent, so throw your worries to the side (we think!).
To learn a bit more about this year's version of the Explorers, we talked with Josh Verlin, head honcho at the fantastic City of Basketball Love site. If you haven't read them, add them to your daily visit list. They cover just about everything basketball in the Greater Philadelphia area and are a must-read for information for the local recruit and high school scene in addition to their solid work on the college level.
Thanks Josh for your time!
What's your (somewhat outside) assessment of Villanova this season so far?
Here's the thing. Villanova is 7-1, ranked in the top 10 in the country (though that will drop slightly after the Oklahoma loss, it won't be a huge fall), got all of its wins by at least 14 points--and they've been shooting the ball terribly. And we all know that this is not a team of below-average shooters; Hart, Jenkins, Brunson, DiVincenzo, Bridges and Booth are all below where they should be from the floor, and while there have been a few questionable shots, the ball movement has been far from poor. Is it scary to rely on a skill that could suddenly disappear for one game for no specific reason? Sure. Is this team skilled enough to go far in the NCAA Tournament as long as that doesn't happen? Absolutely.
2. It's truly been a mixed bag for the 4-3 Explorers thus far against average competition. What have they done well and where have they failed to execute?
Jordan Price has been carrying the Explorers, averaging 25.9 ppg, which according to ESPN (at the time of this conversation) is currently third-best in the country. He's shooting 53 percent overall and 50 percent from 3-point range: frankly, it's been impressive to watch. So that's going well. I don't really know what to say about the Drexel loss--they were just bad, turning it over 17 times, allowing Tavon Allen to go for 25 points, missing a dozen foul shots. And none of them teams they've beaten this year have looked particularly good. They're very thin up front and relying too much on Price to get buckets, and it's cost them late in games.
3. Jordan Price is a familiar name for Villanova fans - who else should Wildcats' fans keep an eye on during Sunday's game?
After Price, fellow redshirt junior Cleon Roberts (12.9 ppg) has been doing his thing, hitting 41.7 percent from 3-point range, while sophomore guard Johnnie Shuler (10.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg) is somehow third on the team in rebounding despite being 5-11. They'll also start 6-10 sophomore Tony Washington, who's seeing his first major action of his college career (8.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg), and 6-5 senior forward Rohan Brown (5.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg), who's playing more than 10 mpg for the first time in his college career. Those five, plus redshirt sophomore guard Amar Stukes (4.7 ppg) will play the majority of the minutes, while 6-7 Yevgen Sahkniuk, a sophomore forward in his first year of eligibility, gives them 5.9 ppg in 11.1 mpg off the bench.
4. Now in his 12th season and with La Salle down the pecking order in the Big 5, is John Giannini on the hot seat at all or has the Sweet 16 run bought him a lot more time?
It would take an absolutely miserable season for Giannini to be on the hot seat, considering the three talented transfers he has sitting out: Pookie Powell (Memphis), B.J. Johnson (Syracuse) and Demetrius Henry (South Carolina) will all be donning Explorers uniforms next year, and when you add them to Price, Washington, Roberts, Shuler and the rest, that could be a dangerous team if they can mesh early in the year. The Sweet 16 run definitely bought him a lot of goodwill, and the potential of this program in the near future eliminates any realistic possibly that he wouldn't be back.
5. Where can Villanova exploit the Explorers' defense? (Please don't say it's by shooting 3s)
It starts with Daniel Ochefu, who could have a dominant game--remember, Darien Nelson-Henry dropped 31 and 14 on these guys a few weeks back.Washington is 6-10 and 220 pounds but doesn't have nearly the experience yet to match up with a center of Ochefu's ability, and after him the Explorers have nobody taller than Sahkniuk, who will have some real problems defending Ochefu down low. La Salle's defensive rebounding percentage, 65.6 percent, is 288th in the country.
As for La Salle's 3-point defense this season, it's been solid: 34.0 percent against D-I competition, which puts them almost smack in the middle at 176th in the country, according to the almighty KenPom.
6. Any predictions you'd like to make for Sunday
Villanova's too deep, too fast, too talented for La Salle. As long as Ochefu doesn't get in stupid foul trouble early, he could have a double-double by halftime. And something tells me playing back in the Pavilion snaps Villanova out of its shooting streak. I think the Wildcats win this by around 20 points, and it could get ugly if those shots are dropping.