#25 Villanova Wildcats (6-0) vs. St. Joseph's Hawks (5-1)
When: Sunday, December 3, 2017, at 1 p.m.
Where: Jake Nevin Field House
Coverage: Nova Nation All-Access ($)
St. Joe's Previous Season Record: 17-15, Lost to Virginia in WNIT opening round
Key Players for the Hawks: #30 Sarah Veilleux (6-0) Jr., G/F; #32 Chelsea Woods (6-0) Sr., F; #12 Alyssa Monaghan (5-5) Jr., G
Villanova gets its first taste of Big 5 play when St. Joe's comes to Jake Nevin Field House on Sunday afternoon. The Hawks are enjoying a solid start to the season, despite the narrow three-point loss to Temple that they'll be looking to bounce back from when they take on the Wildcats. A part of the reason for their success is the improvement and early consistency from their returning players. The team's core is older and wiser, and so far it's showing on the court. Head coach Cindy Griffin is happy to have such a balanced roster with guards that play well on both ends of the court, and forwards that can establish a strong presence in the paint.
Sarah Veilleux has been amazing to watch. She was one of the secondary players last season, but this year she's stepped to the forefront and has taken a great leap from her sophomore year. She does a little of everything, but she excels mainly on the offensive side of the court. She's averaging a team-high 16.5 points per game, all while shooting 67.9 percent overall. From long range, she has knocked down 12-of-21 (57.1 percent) attempts from deep. She's a smart player that seems to be much more selective of her takes, while also proving to be a great creator as well. She's had a few nice dishes and barely turns the ball over (just five through six games). While she's definitely the leading scorer, the Hawks have been able to refrain from being one-dimensional with their balance and by no means is she a ball hog.
Last season's top scorer Chelsea Woods is still a great weapon offensively, averaging 14.5 points per game. She's their top weapon inside. She might not be finishing around the basket as well as she wants, but like Veilleux is the only other reliable free throw shooter on this team. So, she'll make up for it at the charity stripe. Woods has a nice partnership inside with Adashia Franklyn, another similar interior oriented player. Franklyn and Woods are the team's main source of rebounds, along with Amanda Fioravanti--tough forwards that will look to fight through every box out and get in good position to crash the boards.
Mainly running the point is Alyssa Monaghan, the primary ballhandler and playmaker for the Hawks. The junior guard is a skilled passer and another perimeter threat for this team. She has drained 15-of-29 (51.7 percent) of her takes from deep. Her style of offense mostly revolves around jumpers and doesn't drive too much, as well as create for others. She takes good care of the ball, doesn't turn it over often. Defensively, she's another tough defender at the perimeter. She forces turnovers and plays with a nice intensity on defense.
As balanced as this team is, the Hawks struggle from the free throw line. As mentioned earlier, Veilleux and Woods are the only proven players to deliver from the charity stripe, while the rest of the team struggles. As a team, the Hawks convert on 60.9 percent of their foul shots. When you remove Veilleux and Woods from the equation,everyone else goes for 47.6 percent--ouch. St. Joe's did better than usual against Temple (71 percent), but a three-point loss has the Hawks wishing they converted on a few more and then, who knows from there.
Villanova returns home for the first time since the Duke upset, and it'll have another good game to look forward to in the confines of Jake Nevin Field House. St. Joe's is no slouch this year, and is actually in a similar situation to the 'Cats. The Hawks didn't lose too many players heading into this season and a lot of the core members are back in action. This is a promising start for them in what should be a solid season. In fact, St. Joe's roster is so similar to Villanova's that it even has its own Jekot. The Hawks' Katie Jekot is the younger sister of sophomore Kelly. While it would have been fun to have gotten some sister vs. sister action, Katie is out with an injury.
The similarities don't stop there. The Hawks are also a tough team defensively and have done a pretty good job of slowing down opponents at the three-point line, just allowing them to shoot 31 percent. While Villanova has gotten most of the work done from deep, the Princeton game was a telling one. The 'Cats aren't as one-dimensional as they seem. They were selective in their threes, didn't fire at will, and took what the Princeton defense gave them.
Villanova does see another tough forward, just as it did against Princeton--with Woods in the paint. However, the Wildcats showcased an ability to win against a team that they didn't matchup too well against. Seeing how they're back at home, the experience of surviving a forward-dominant team like Princeton, things should go well for Villanova here.
Alex Louin, Adrianna Hahn, and Kelly Jekot have been playing some great basketball lately. Then, you have players coming off the bench like the efficient Mary Gedaka and Princeton game heroine Bridget Herlihy adding some nice contributions--the Wildcats will be tested again, but should pass this one.
The work Villanova has done to negate the play of guards so far this season has been great, and I think that continues against Veilleux and the St. Joe's backcourt.