No. 1 Villanova to face rival St. Joe’s



Jon Albert

Despite a setback against the Tennessee Volunteers last weekend in New York, the men’s basketball team will have to bounce back quickly Friday night as they take part in the latest installment of one of its fiercest rivalries: the Holy War against the St. Joseph’s University Hawks.

The ‘Cats’ subpar performance against the Vols, which resulted in a disjointed 78-68 loss, will need to be improved if Head Coach Jay Wright’s squad wants to claim victory in its inaugural Big 5 game of 2010.

Rocky showing

against Rocky Top

In Friday’s final of the NIT Preseason Tip-Off, the favored Wildcats were unable to establish an offensive rhythm against the Volunteers, including being held to a meager 30 points at halftime. Credit must certainly be given to Tennessee for playing an excellent defensive game, but many ‘Cats who have been pegged as top offensive performers had terrible shooting nights.

Senior guard Corey Fisher was limited to just three points, a season-low, on just one of 10 shooting. Sophomore guard Maalik Wayns scored 11, but this came on a paltry three of 11 from the field. The Wildcats’ two primary ball handlers also combined for 11 turnovers. Another area of concern against Tennessee was poor free-throw shooting. Wright’s team got to the line 36 times but only managed 67 percent of their attempts, a low percentage for a Villanova team.

Forward progress

One positive point to be taken from the team’s recent stretch of games has been the dominant play in the post by the team’s big men. Albeit against largely inferior and undersized big men, redshirt senior forward Antonio Peña and sophomore forward-center Mouphtaou Yarou have both enjoyed excellent starts to the season. Yarou’s start is particularly encouraging, as many view his early success as a key to Villanova’s fate this season.

Yarou has recorded double-digit point totals in four of six games this season and has vastly improved his rebounding numbers. He had a career-high 16 boards against UCLA and has also worked to keep his fouls down in the early going, while still averaging over a block per game.

With freshman forward JayVaughn Pinkston still sidelined during the University’s investigation, redshirt sophomore center Maurice Sutton has also given the team some much-needed but sporadic production off the bench.

Sutton has seen all of his numbers improve this season, but most remarkable is his shooting percentage, which currently stands at 68 percent.

St. Joe’s struggles

After a dismal 11-20 season last year, the Hawks again found themselves at the bottom of the A-10 to start the season after opening losses to Western Kentucky and Penn State.

But the team responded to their 0-2 start with three consecutive victories, including one over Big East foe Rutgers.

In that 76-70 victory, sophomore guard Carl Jones scored a game-high 21 points. Jones has been the team’s leading scorer this season and has scored in double figures in his last six games. Jones, along with fellow backcourt mate freshman Langston Galloway, has been the most important player for the Hawks this season. If the Wildcats can contain his production, they will likely win this edition of The Holy War.

Galloway is a more intriguing player, however. The 6-foot-3-inch freshman guard leads the team in both rebounds and assists, which looks great on paper but also speaks to the deficiencies that the Hawks have on the blocks. The aforementioned Villanova big men could all have productive days against the underperforming St. Joe’s forwards.

The Holy War LXVIII

As storied as these two programs are, Villanova is currently in a different class than St. Joe’s when it comes to their basketball teams. The ‘Cats haven’t lost to St. Joe’s at home since 2004, when the Hawks boasted future NBA stars Jameer Nelson and Delonte West.

The tide has certainly shifted since that game, with the Wildcats winning five of the last six matchups. Villanova holds a 43-24 all-time series lead against St. Joe’s and is also 10-3 over the last 14 years.

This game, like all rivalry games, will be closely contested, but look for the ‘Cats’ superior depth and frontcourt play to be the difference.

Villanova fans might be nervous when it stays close in the second half, but the ‘Cats should pull away toward the end.