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Villanova Basketball 2021-22 game preview: Saint Joseph’s Hawks

Rivalry renewed!

NCAA Basketball: Wooden Legacy-Georgetown vs Saint Josephs Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Villanova Wildcats (5-2) return home (and back on Fox Sports 1) for a Saturday matinee against Big 5 rival Saint Joseph’s.

The Hawks (4-3) are entering with back-to-back wins over Georgetown and Binghamton, which brought them back over the .500 mark.

Tip-off is scheduled for 12 p.m. ET.

Will the Kanacevic curse live on?

As we approach the nine-year anniversary of St. Joe’s alum Halil Kanacevic’s moment of infamy, will the curse continue?

For a refresher — or story time for the current students and those who arrived to Villanova fandom after Dec. 11, 2012 — there was a time when Big 5 games weren’t guaranteed or not as one-sided as the round robin series may be today.

Villanova hosted St. Joe’s at the Pavilion in a mid-December game. Things weren’t going well for the ‘Cats, and the building was lifeless. The Hawks led for most of the game, but the ‘Cats kept it fairly close.

The game was tied at 47 apiece late in the second half, when Kanacevic buried a three-pointer to give St. Joe’s a 50-47 lead. Kanacevic raised three fingers in celebration, before dropping two of them to flip off the Villanova student section.

In that moment, a time out was called. Jay Wright, Phil Martelli, and the referees did not notice the gesture, but everyone else in the Pavilion did. Boos showered from all directions, and the game played on without punishment for Kanacevic.

From that point forward, every fan got into the game — even the wine and cheese crowd (imagine that!) — and the Pavilion reached decibels that probably won’t be matched.

The ‘Cats clawed back into the game, and James Bell hit some clutch baskets down the stretch to put Villanova in front.

To make matters sweeter, Kanacevic was sent to the free throw line, and he bricked both foul shots with less than a minute to go. His story didn’t end there.

The Hawks had one last chance to salvage the game. Kanacevic, the inbounder, ended up turning the ball over in the closing seconds, and the Wildcats made a couple more free throws to hang on for a 65-61 win.

That three-pointer Kanacevic made before flipping off the Pavilion crowd ended up being his only bucket of the game. He finished with four points and five turnovers.

Kanacevic was eventually punished and ended up being suspended for a couple of weeks. However, the true punishment for St. Joe’s is that the Hawks haven’t beaten Villanova since. The games haven’t really been close either.

Since that four-point win, the ‘Cats have won each of their games against St. Joe’s by double figures, and the average margin of victory is 23.8 points.

KenPom appears to be predicting more of the same. KenPom lists the ‘Cats as a 98% favorite to win and projects a 22-point victory for Villanova.

Get Funky

Fifth-year senior Taylor Funk has saved his best for last. He’s on pace to have a career season and post his best numbers in nearly every major statistical category.

He leads the Hawks with 19.2 points per game. His best asset is his three-point shooting. Funk, a 6-foot-8 stretch big, is shooting a blistering 54.0% from long range. He had a reputation of being a great shooter, but lost his shooting stroke midway through his college career. Last season, he appeared to regain his rhythm from beyond the arc, and this season, he’s taking off.

The Wildcats can’t allow Funk to get comfortable on the perimeter. More than 70% of his shots this season are strictly from the three-point line. (50 of 67)

Aside from Funk, also keep an eye on Jordan Hall. He’s starting off cold from long range, but has found other ways to score and is active on the glass. He’s averaging 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds.

Vanderbilt transfer Ejike Obinna has revitalized his career with St. Joe’s. While he played in 65 games with the Commodores, starting in nearly half of them, he didn’t have much of an impact on the court. At St. Joe’s, he’s finally getting a chance to show his skills. The 6-foot-10 big man is averaging 12.5 points and a team-best 7.3 rebounds per game.

Freshman Erik Reynolds II is playing well in his first few games of collegiate action, averaging 9.5 points while shooting 41.9% overall and 38.5% from deep. Junior Cameron Brown’s production has taken a step down from his first couple of seasons, but he remains a valued player in their rotation.

Shoot ‘em up, sleep in the streets

St. Joe’s has pretty good size across the board, with solid forwards up front and lanky guards to surround them. As a result, it’s not surprising that it would be pretty good at defending the interior.

The Hawks have held opponents to shooting just 42.2% inside the arc, entering Saturday’s matchup as the 22nd best team at defending two-pointers in the country.

However, while the Hawks have some players that can certainly shoot and heat up from deep, they aren’t great at defending the long-ball on the other end of the court. They have one of the worst three-point shooting percentages allowed. Opponents have knocked down 41.7% of threes against them, which ranks them 341st in Division I college basketball.

You don’t need to tell Villanova twice when it comes to shooting threes, but the ‘Cats should definitely let it fly.