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Villanova Basketball Game Preview: St. Joseph’s Hawks

The Big 5 is back at the Finn.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 03 Lafayette at St Joseph’s Photo by Nicole Fridling/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The No. 7-ranked Villanova Wildcats (6-1) are set to take on the winless St. Joseph’s Hawks (0-3) at Finneran Pavilion on Saturday night. The ‘Cats are coming off a solid home win against Butler on Wednesday, while the visitors are fresh off a hard fought loss Thursday to Drexel.

The Drexel game was the first for St. Joe’s since Nov. 27, as they had three games (including the original matchup with Villanova) postponed due to positive COVID-19 tests within the program. It’s a bit of a let down matchup for our guys as we had been anticipating playing Virginia at MSG this Saturday night, but the 2020 rendition of the Holy War will have to do.

A Philadelphia Tradition

The Holy War dates back to 1921, and Villanova holds the all-time series edge, 51-25. The matchup has been extremely one-sided in the past decade, as St. Joe’s has not beaten Villanova since 2011. The Wildcats have taken the last eight straight games by an average margin of victory of 21.5 points. That includes three beatdowns of 30 or more points, and the 2018 juggernaut storming into Hawk Hill and winning by 41.

Last year, the ‘Cats handled the Hawks from start to finish en route to a comfortable 12 point victory, led by Saddiq Bey’s 22 points and Collin Gillespie’s 20. Look for similar production from Gillespie as well as Jermaine Samuels, as these grind-it-out Big 5 games seem to bring out the best in the experienced upperclassmen.

Scouting The Hawks

Billy Lange had a rough first year at the helm. St. Joe’s finished dead last in the Atlantic 10 and 6-26 overall. Offensively they were a mess, as they finished with more turnovers than assists and shot under 30% from three. They also really struggled to defend, allowing almost 80 points per game.

That seems to be the story of this year as well, as they’ve allowed over 90 points per game (albeit against a few pretty good teams) in their first three games. The bright spot going into this season is they bring back a couple pretty good players. Leading the way is Ryan Daly, an Archbishop Carroll alum who transferred from Delaware. You might remember him from a season ago, when he poured in 32 against ‘Nova in a losing effort.

He’s coming off a 30 point performance versus Drexel. Also returning is Taylor Funk, a redshirt junior who sat out most of last season with a torn ligament in his shooting hand. He seems to be back to full strength as he’s averaging 16.3 points and seven rebounds. Funk is a 6-foot-8 stretch forward who’s trigger happy from deep (4-for-9 in their game against Kansas). Expect to see a lot of Samuels covering Daly and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl on Funk in order to contain St. Joe’s one-two punch.

Balanced Attack

These non-conference games are great for seeing what you’ve got off the bench. As we know Jay likes to tighten the rotation as the season goes on. While I don’t see this rotation getting any smaller, I would like to see who we can trust as a reliable scoring option off the bench.

Cole Swider has been someone to keep an eye on, as he’s averaged 9.8 points per game in the last 4 contests. If he can keep up the productive shooting and just be serviceable on the defensive end, that takes this team to a different level. Eric Dixon has also shown some real promise, and it appears he will be playing some important minutes when the going gets tough in the Big East. In a game like this where St. Joe’s is noticeably weak on the interior (they’ve been out-rebounded by 41 in three games), Dixon should be able to make an impact on the glass.

9 p.m. Saturday night tip — A couple Sip of Sunshines and some Villanova basketball doesn’t sound too bad to me. Let’s go ‘Cats.