The Wildcats and the Hawks resume the ‘Holy War’

Larry Flynn

One of the most heated, historical college basketball battles is back.

The infamous “Holy War” returns to the Pavilion this Saturday when the Villanova Wildcats host the St. Joe’s Hawks in a Big Five rivalry game. 

Although the Wildcats have held a 46–25 advantage in the schools’ all-time series, the Philadelphia rivalry has lead to many thrilling, close games over the course of decades.

The first matchup between the top two Roman Catholic affiliated basketball programs in Philadelphia began in 1920 with a 31-22 win for Villanova.  Over the span of nearly 100 years, there have been classic matchups against some of the top east-coast basketball talent.  

In 1985, the eventual national champion Wildcats took on St. Joe’s, ending the annual duel on an and-one buzzer beater from Dwyane McClain. Nine years later, a Wildcats team led by Kerry Kittles was upset by a Hawks team that had not made the postseason in eight seasons.  

In the 72nd episode of this epic basketball saga, will the No. 10 Wildcats get the best of a rebuilding St. Joe’s program?

Heading into Saturday’s contest against their Big Five rival, Villanova won their first six games of the season. The ‘Cats started off a bit out of rhythm with narrow wins over Lehigh and Bucknell, but quickly showcased their potential as a championship contender in the Legend’s Classic at the Barclay’s Center.

The Wildcats took care of VCU after a 22-3 run in the second half and a stretch of over eight minutes holding the Rams without a field goal.  

The following day in Brooklyn, team captain and hometown star JayVaughn Pinkston paced the Wildcats with a dynamic performance against the Michigan Wolverines, including the game-saving block.  

Although Pinkston was the star against Michigan, the Villanova offense has been efficient and balanced.  Five Wildcats are averaging between 8.5 and 10 points per game, a tribute to the trust and depth of this team.

Leading the Wildcats in scoring is Dylan Ennis at 13.0 per game.  After struggling his freshman season, Ennis impressed during training camp and earned a starting spot over Josh Hart.  

Ennis has responded with confidence and poise.  He has helped supplant the loss of James Bell’s shooting from last season, but has also been a defensive stalwart.  Against Michigan, 6’2” Ennis blocked a dunk attempt from a 6’8” forward in what may be the best pound-for-pound block of the season in college basketball. This tenacious, trapping defense has been a staple of Villanova basketball this season, and should prove to too much for St. Joe’s to overcome, especially coming off a blowout win over Delaware. 

Desperately missing their stars Langston Galloway, Ronald Roberts Jr. and Halil Kanacevic from last season, St. Joe’s has struggled mightily to start their season.  The Hawks were blown out by 52 points against Gonzaga, but their most concerning results have come in close losses against Fairleigh Dickinson and Western Kentucky.  St. Joe’s is also shooting a putrid 38 percent from the field throughout the beginning of the 2014-15 season.

The one bright spot for the Hawks has been versatile sophomore DeAndre’ Bembry.  As last year’s Big Five rookie of the year and Atlantic 10 co-rookie of the year, the versatile swingman averaged 12.1 points per contest.  

Bembry has picked up where he left off last season, and has improved significantly in the offseason, particularly as a rebounder.  Bembry posted 22 points, nine rebounds and four assists in a win over Vermont, and recorded a season-high 23 in a loss to Western Kentucky.

Built around Bembry, the Hawks will grow a talented young core which should compete in the near future. This year, however, is the year for the Wildcats to shine.  

It’s likely that Jay Wright continues to implement his 1-2-2 full court pressure against non-conference opponents.  

The press has worked to perfection for the ‘Cats, most notably in their blowout wins of VCU and Maryland Eastern-Shore.  

Even when the opposing team breaks the press, Villanova’s half-court defense has featured ball-pressure and trapping in both the corner and the wing.  

Against the inexperienced Hawks, the Wildcats will likely extend their pressure and force a plethora of turnovers in the backcourt.  

Villanova also holds an advantage in the frontcourt, where Daniel Ochefu is having a career year.  Statistically, Ochefu is making the jump to a near double-double every game, but the most significant difference in the big man’s game is his confidence.  

Given the Wildcats’ improved frontcourt, “Guard U” has fed the post more than any other Villanova team in recent history.  Ochefu has responded well to the added responsibility by making smart decisions in the post and improving his signature right-handed hook shot.

Should Villanova jump out to an early lead, the bench will have no problem picking up where the starters left off. 

 Sophomores Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart have been impressive throughout the beginning of the season, Jenkins for his scoring ability and Hart for his aggressive defense and hustle play. Further down the bench, freshman Phil Booth has been efficient in just over 10 minutes per game.  He may get the opportunity to practice running the point guard position should the Wildcats hold a large lead.  

Although the Wildcats should run away with the win, they must be careful not to play down to the level of their competition as they did against Lehigh and Bucknell.  Especially in a rivalry matchup, anything can happen.


Villanova 72 

Saint Joseph’s 5