The #22 Villanova Wildcats welcome the 4-2 La Salle Explorers in their first game of the Big 5 round robin. Villanova is coming off a disappointing loss to Baylor in the championship of the Myrtle Beach Invitational. Meanwhile La Salle is coming off a championship run through the Gulf Coast Showcase. Here’s everything you need to know about these Philly rivals leading up to Sunday’s game.
Ashley Howard returns to Villanova
Long time assistant coach Ashley Howard is now in his second season as head coach of the Explorers, and it’s his first trip to Nova’s campus with his new team. Howard was with Villanova through both of their recent National Championships, and was essential in the recruitment of many of the players who are now representing the Wildcats in the NBA. So don’t be surprised if those in attendance give the opposing head coach an overwhelming round of applause for all he did while on the Main Line.
But there is a downside to Howard’s return. Unfortunately, he IS a good coach and La Salle is getting better. The Wildcats should still be overwhelming favorites, but they shouldn’t overlook the Explorers who have won three straight and climbed into the top half of KenPom.com‘s rankings. Big 5 games have a tendency to be closer than they should be, and both head coaches know that.
Three Point Party
It’s not surprising that Howard took a thing or two from Jay Wright’s playbook when he took over at La Salle. One thing that seems to have stuck is the “Shoot ‘em up, sleep in the streets” mentality. Both Villanova and La Salle are taking over 42% of their shots from deep and making over 38% of those threes. In fact, between the two schools there are seven players shooting 40% or better from long range.
In fact, the biggest difference between the two is in how they defend the three-point line. La Salle has actually been one of the best perimeter defenders in the country, holding opponents to 26.3% from deep. Villanova’s been allowing 33.6%, but they’ve also arguably been facing much tougher competition.
Villanova has been turning the ball over more than usual, and they haven’t been able to wrestle the ball away from their opponents. But they’ve still been better off than La Salle. The Explorers are averaging over 16 turnovers a game on offense, and like Nova are also struggling to create turnovers. If one of these teams can have a significant advantage in turnovers, that could keep things close for La Salle or result in a blow-out win for the Wildcats.