Being an unranked team and defeating two nationally ranked, top 5 programs during the same week, it’s understandable for Villanova and it’s students to celebrate a little. The floor of the Wells Fargo Center endured a little extra foot traffic than usual this past week, thanks in part to thousands of Wildcat fans storming the court after wins over 5th-ranked Louisville and 3rd-ranked Syracuse. After being cut down by Nova, both of those teams took a hit in this week’s AP Top 25 poll, with Syracuse dropping three spots to 6th overall, and Louisville, who also lost to unranked Georgetown, dropping seven spots to 12th overall. For the first time this season, Villanova received 6 votes in this week’s poll.
There is no rest for the weary in the Big East Conference however, as the Wildcats (13-7 overall, 4-3 Big East, RPI: 49) travel to South Bend, Indiana on Wednesday, January 30th to take on the previously-24th-ranked-but-now-unranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish (16-4, 4-3, RPI: 46). Tip-off is at 6:00 PM, and will be nationally televised on ESPN2. They then come back home to the Pavilion to take on the Providence Friars (10-10, 2-6, RPI: 121) on Sunday, February 3rd, tipping-off at 12:00 PM.
Beating the Irish will not be an easy task for the Wildcats, especially coming off such an emotional week. Notre Dame is 12-2 at home this season, which certainly gives them an advantage that Villanova, 4-3 on the road, will have to overcome. They are led by 6’9 Senior forward Jack Cooley, who averages 14.4 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, both team highs. They also have two experienced, intelligent Junior guards running their offense, 6’5 Jerian Grant and 6’2 Eric Atkins, who both average double-figures in scoring, and each dish out over 5 assists per game. Notre Dame’s biggest strength is their efficiency from beyond the arc, shooting close to 40% as a team. Villanova’s perimeter defenders will have to extend their man-to-man defense beyond the 3-point line in order to minimize open looks for the Irish’s shooters. If they’re able to do that effectively, the Wildcats will have more than a fighting chance of earning their third straight Big East Conference victory, and further solidifying their NCAA Tournament hopes.
LA SALLE EXPLORERS
Similar to their Big 5 brethren in Villanova, La Salle is also coming off a remarkable week of basketball in their own right. The unranked Explorers (14-5 overall, 4-2 A10, RPI: 26) also beat two top-25 teams in consecutive games, knocking off the 9th-ranked Butler Bulldogs in thrilling, buzzer-beater fashion on Wednesday, January 23rd at Tom Gola Arena, and the 19th-ranked VCU Rams on Saturday, January 26th on VCU’s home court. In doing so, La Salle earned 3 votes in the AP Top 25 poll this week for the first time this season. Although the Explorers’ two opponents this week are not nationally ranked teams, every game played within the rugged Atlantic-10 conference is a challenge.
On Wednesday, January 30th, the Massachusetts Minutemen (13-5, 3-2 A10, RPI: 53) visit Tom Gola Arena to take on the Explorers, tipping-off at 7:00 PM. UMass is a solid, well-coached team led by 5’9 Senior point guard Chaz Williams, who averages 16.6 points and 7.3 assists per game. The Minutemen are the third-highest scoring team in the Atlantic-10 Conference, registering close to 73 points per game.
La Salle’s second game of the week is on Saturday, February 2nd against the George Washington Colonials (10-9 overall, 4-2 A10, RPI: 126) at the Charles E. Smith Center in Washington, D.C., located on GW’s campus. Tip-off is at 2:00 PM. The Colonials are led by former Villanova Wildcat Isaiah Armwood, who transferred to GW after his Sophomore season, looking for more playing time. The 6’9 Junior forward has found just that at his new school, along with impressive success, averaging 11.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, and close to 3 blocks per game.
Despite losing to lowly St. Bonaventure this past week, Temple’s hopes for reaching the NCAA Tournament remain very much alive, thanks to quality wins earlier in the season. In order to solidify their position as a tournament team however, the Owls need to finish the remainder of their Atlantic-10 schedule strong, which is no easy task.
Temple (13-6 overall, 2-3 A10, RPI: 56) has two games on the schedule this week, starting with the visiting Richmond Spiders (13-8, 3-3, RPI: 70) at the Liacouras Center on Wednesday, January 30th, tipping-off at 7:00 PM, followed by fellow Big 5 member Saint Joe’s Hawks (11-7, 2-3, RPI: 89) at Hagen Arena located on Hawk Hill, on Saturday, February 2nd at 6:00 PM.
SAINT JOE’S HAWKS
The Saint Joe’s Hawks (11-7 overall, 2-3 A10, RPI: 89), touted in the preseason as the team to beat in the Big 5 this year, continue their disappointing season with two games this week, visiting Rose Hill Gymnasium in the Bronx to square off with the Fordham Rams (6-14 overall, 2-3 A10) on Wednesday, January 30th at 7:00 PM, and then at home against Temple (13-6, 2-3, RPI: 56) on Saturday, February 2nd at 6:00 PM.
The University of Pennsylvania (3-15 overall, 0-1 Ivy League) plays two games in the Ivy League this week, both at the Palestra. The Columbia Lions (9-7, 1-1) visit the Quakers on Friday, February 2nd, tipping-off at 7:00 PM, followed by Cornell University (9-10, 1-1) on Saturday, February 3rd, also at 7:00 PM.
Tags: Big 5, College Basketball, La Salle, NCAA, Penn, Saint Joseph's, Temple, Villanova