by Mark Mullany
No. 14 Villanova will travel down Route 30 to City Avenue this Saturday night, where it will face one of its bitterest rivals: the St. Joseph’s Hawks.
Out of all the Big Five rivalries, this matchup has the most animosity—and that’s why it has been called the Holy War.
On the surface, many might say the Wildcats should barrel through this team, considering they just received their first AP ranking since February 2011.
However, this rivalry transcends rankings. Both ’Nova and St. Joe’s respectively believe themselves to be superior to their rival.
This game is the opportunity where one school can prove its superiority and have bragging rights over the other for an entire year.
The ’Cats’ top scorers are redshirt junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston and senior guard James Bell, both averaging roughly 17 points per game.
Pinkston has always attacked the rim effectively, but this year he is finishing more.
His ability to penetrate the paint opens up the Wildcats’ favorite offensive move—the 3-pointer.
This season, Bell has embraced his role as the senior leader.
He can take control of a game with a sensational transition dunk or a 3-pointer, especially when his team needs him to step up.
For his great performance in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament, Bell was named the tourney’s MVP, Philadelphia Big Five Player of the Week and Big East Player of the Week.
Also, sophomore guard Ryan Arcidiacono has improved tremendously in managing the offense and minimizing turnovers, while still being able to hit the big shot—just watch the highlights of the Kansas game from last Friday night.
Junior guard Darrun Hilliard has been an effective offensive weapon, whether he’s driving to the paint, shooting from beyond the arc or leading the team in assists.
Coming off the bench, redshirt sophomore Dylan Ennis fits perfectly into Jay Wright’s perimeter shooting offense.
Additionally, freshman guard Josh Hart and freshman forward Kris Jenkins bring great depth to the Wildcats.
At Hawk Hill, St. Joe’s top scorers have been senior forward Ronald Roberts, Jr. and senior guard Langston Galloway.
Through the first six games, Roberts, averaged 18.5 points and Galloway tallied 17.2 per game.
At the Old Spice Classic, Roberts averaged 20 points and seven rebounds, earning him A-10 Co-Player of the Week and a spot on the All-Tournament Team.
They are the only two Hawks who average double-digit scoring. Leading in assists and rebounds for this season is senior forward Halil Kanacevic.
This year’s game will hold much significance for him.
Last year, with seven ties and neither team holding more than a six-point lead, the contest was tight on the scoreboard.
The Nova Nation cheered its ’Cats and jeered at the opposing Hawks.
Then came one of the most energizing moments in the Pavilion’s storied history.
With 9:57 remaining in the game, Kanacevic sank a go-ahead 3-pointer on the basket in front of the student section.
As he backpedaled away, he proceeded to throw up multiple suggestive gestures at the ’Nova students: Let’s say he “flipped the Hawk.”
Needless to say, Kanacevic lit a fire under the Nova Nation. The noise level exploded in the Pavilion as though the students were attempting to shatter the sound barrier.
With 46 seconds left and behind by one point, ’Nova intentionally fouled Kanacevic to extend the contest.
As the student rained boos down upon the SJU forward, he failed to connect on his free throws. On the next play, Bell would hit on the go-ahead three.
After Saint Joe’s used the rest of its timeouts to draw up one final play, Kanacevic was responsible for inbounding the ball.
With Maurice Sutton guarding the inbounds pass, Kanacevic decided to hit the ball off of the lanky forward, which deflected back at him and landed out of bounds.
With this turnover, ’Nova garnered possession of the ball and of the game with the 65-61 win.
In comparing the performances of both team’s top scorers, Galloway led all scorers with 22 points, while Roberts, Jr. tallied 10.
Conversely, Pinkston and Bell each contributed 12.
Not only did Bell hit the go-ahead three, but he sank the game-sealing free throws as well.
For Kanacevic, this year’s edition of the Big Five rivalry will be an opportunity to bury that memory in the past.
The atmosphere will be vastly different because this time the Holy War will be at Hawk Hill.
The Hagan Arena, which completed its renovations in 2009, will be hosting ’Nova for the second time ever.
In the Wildcats’ first game in Hagan Arena on December 2011, the Hawks trounced them, 74-58.
In looking at all the statistics for the Holy War, this one might bring the most relief to the Nova Nation—since Jay Wright took over as ’Nova’s head coach in 2001, the ’Cats are 8-4 against the Hawks, and are 4-0 against Saint Joe’s when they are ranked.
Look for Bell and Roberts to have a big game; they have both shown great senior leadership and know the importance of winning this matchup.
Kanacevic will probably be very motivated to do well in this game because of his antics costing his team the win in the previous year.
This is the perfect opportunity to atone for last year’s sins.
Ultimately, if the Wildcats do not underestimate their rivals, continue to play team-oriented basketball and shutdown Galloway or Roberts, Jr., they will win the game.
Villanova 71 Saint Joseph’s 66