After downing Penn in a homage to the Wildcats' old home, the Jake Nevin Fieldhouse, the No. 4 Villanova Wildcats (7-0) will head on the road to resume Big 5 play against rival St. Joseph's Hawks (4-3).
The Hawks returned above-.500 after beating Bucknell, 83-70, on Wednesday night. They enter Saturday's game after winning back-to-back games against the Bison and Sacramento State.
Villanova leads the all-time series against St. Joe's, 48-25, and the 'Cats have won five-straight meetings. The Hawks have only beaten the Wildcats twice over the last 10 years.
Here are three things to watch for heading into Saturday:
Blend of Old and New
Following a successful 2015-16 season that resulted in an Atlantic-10 championship and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, a number of key player departures threw a number of untested or previous backup Hawks into much bigger roles. It was a tough year for the Hawks, and a few injuries didn't help their case. However, Phil Martelli got to learn a thing or two about his roster after such a big turnover.
Shavar Newkirk and James Demery both stepped up to the task of having much bigger roles. They have relished in being the leading men after taking the backseat to some of the more prominent guys in their younger years. Newkirk is healthy again after an ACL injury ended his 2016-17 season prematurely. He's averaging a team-high 17.4 points per game. He's a bit of a volume scorer and isn't all that efficient. He's seen better days and his three-point shot is no longer as consistent. So far this season, he's shooting a subpar 37.0 percent on the floor and an even worse 28.2 percent from deep--huge drops compared to last year.
As for Demery, he's a nice inside scoring presence, one that's also averaging around 17 points per game. He's not too big a threat from deep, and occasionally likes to shoot from beyond the arc. However, he's one of the Hawks' better defenders.
While it was expected this senior duo would continue to be such great contributors for St. Joe's, Martelli has a nice surprise in the way freshman Taylor Funk is playing so far. The Manheim, Pa. native has had the hot hand to start his collegiate career. He's the only real threat from the perimeter on this team. The freshman forward is averaging 14.9 points, whiles shooting a team-high 51.4 percent on the floor and 48.9 percent from deep. He also has 5.3 boards per game to go along with his hot scoring.
These three are the Hawks to keep an eye out for.
Injuries seemed to hamper St. Joe's last season, never really allowing the Hawks to showcase their potential in their first season without DeAndre Bembry and Isaiah Miles. While Newkirk is finally healthy and back to the fast track he was on last season before tearing his ACL in December, a couple of his teammates haven't been as lucky. Sophomore Charlie Brown is expected to miss yet another game due to a fractured wrist he sustained during pre-season. Brown set the Hawks' freshman record for three-pointers made in a season. With St. Joe's not really being an exceptional long range shooting team, the Hawks could really use any help they can get from deep. It would also take a lot of the stress off from Funk, who has been the only consistent sharpshooter. Brown's absence makes Villanova's job on the perimeter a bit easier and will give the 'Cats all the time to focus on taking away the freshman forward.
Aside from Brown, Lamarr Kimble suffered another devastating injury. Kimble had been a nice complementary piece to Newkirk when the two were healthy to start the 2016-17 season. They worked well off each other and proved to be a solid guard tandem in the backcourt. Unfortunately for Kimble, his season was cut short due to a foot injury that forced him to miss the last seven games of the year. This year, Kimble's redemption tour was brief, as he re-fractured the same foot in the season opener against Toledo. Shortly after, it was announced that he would be done for the year. His absence disables another scoring option for the Hawks, one of their best at that.
The Hawks' injury woes has them limping in to Saturday's game and will make it that much harder for them to upset the 'Cats.
Glue Hands vs. Active Hands
Villanova's defense has played exceptionally well so far in this young season, coming in at ninth overall in terms of defensive efficiency--according to KenPom. While the Wildcats have had their dry spells and instances where they stalled offensively, overall their defense has been pretty consistent and has helped lead to a number of scoring opportunities or feed a run.
Yes, there was a bit of a flare up in the first half of that Tennessee game, but the way it bounced back in the second half and how the 'Cats have followed through on that side of the court in the two game since--just spells trouble for a St. Joseph's team that doesn't shoot the ball that well as a team.
One thing St. Joe's does do well is take care of the ball. The Hawks have the third-lowest turnover rate in the country. They don't cough up the ball much. They'll receive a tough test when 'Nova comes to town, as the Wildcats boast 21.6 percent turnover rate on defense and the 30th highest steal rate in the country.
St. Joe's isn't going to win a shootout, but it can make things more manageable for the Hawks--or easier on the 'Cats--depending on how they take care of the ball.