Dec. 04, 2016
Batten Down The Hatches For Holy War Comes To Thee
Lock your windows and doors, hide your valuables, and prepare for a fight, Villanova students, for Holy War comes to thee. At 1PM, sleepy, upscale Radnor township will play host to one of the biggest, most heated rivalries in all of college sports, as the Jesuit powerhouse Saint Joseph's Hawks take on the #2 ranked Catholic powerhouse Villanova Wildcats at the Pavilion on CBSSportsNetwork. This is the game many Big 5 fans circle on their calendar every year, as not only is it an intense rivalry but both the Hawks and Wildcats have been almost continuously the two best teams in the storied city series for the past decade-plus. Regardless of the difference in the records, that's definitely the case this time around as well.
Expect a much more in depth piece on each team in the future but for now we're just going to take a look at the 2016-17 Saint Joseph's Hawks and Villanova Wildcats and more importantly how they match up against each other.
First of all, these teams are a lot more similar than one would think. Last year, both the Hawks and the Wildcats were teams built around a talented do-it-all star forward and an undersized but very offensively talented undersized power forward who could flat out bomb from the perimeter.
That all changed for Saint Joseph's when DeAndre Bembry decided to skip his senior year and declare for the draft -where he got drafted in the second round by the Atlanta Hawks- and Isaiah Miles of course graduated. What really set Villanova apart from the Hawks last season were two things: a dominant Center who was a legitimate 7-footer and an unselfish point guard who played tough defense and was a hell of a scorer and shooter in his own right. I'm of course referring to graduated stars Daniel Ochefu and Ryan Arcidiacano. Luckily for the Wildcats, senior forward Darryl Reynolds has turned into a dominant Center in his own right in the wake of major recruit Omari Spellman being ruled academically ineligible for the 2016-17 season. More on his play later in this piece.
Unfortunately for Villanova, they have no replacement who is anywhere near the caliber point guard Arch was. Sophomore Jalen Brunson was one of the biggest recruits Villanova has had in years but really he's got a ways to go both as a point guard and a scorer to reach the same level. Senior guard Phil Booth is a very solid option at the point -and has started next to Brunson in a two point guard lineup similar to that of Saint Joseph's- but unfortunately he's been injured recently. This leaves a major hole both when it comes to running the offense -and timely scoring- and playing tough defense on the opposing point guard as Brunson has never consistently showed he can do either of those things.
Fortunately for the Hawks, they have in my opinion the best point guard in the whole Big 5 in Shavar Newkirk, a standout junior who is one of the best scorers in the country at the position in addition to being a true point guard and a pesky defender. Next to him is a very Brunson-like player in combo guard Lamar Kimble. Kimble can get hot and put up points in bunches but he's a player who like Brunson has quite a ways to go in all facets of the game.
Where Villanova again takes the edge though is with two of the best players in the country back for their senior years at the two guard and power forward positions. I'm of course referring to Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, who are two of the most talented offensive players the Wildcats have ever had and yet play the game exactly the way it should be played.
This is where Saint Joseph's is at a major disadvantage right now, as their replacement for the departed Isaiah Miles was James Demery, who suffered a stress fracture in his foot in the Hawks' first game of the season. Impressive freshmen Charlie Brown- who could very well be the best player in the Big 5 some day- has stepped up and taken on much more offensive responsibility while fellow freshmen Nick Robinson has slid into the starting power forward spot for the fairly inexperienced Hawks. Sophomore Chris Clover and senior Brendan Casper have also both taken on much bigger roles than was expected for either, and have impressed at times. Unfortunately, Demery was literally the only experienced player the Hawks had who could even remotely consistently replace the scoring, shooting, rebounding, and defense that Isaiah Miles provided the team last year. Like Temple after the loss of Josh Brown, the Hawks will need at least one frontcourt player to step up and give them consistent scoring and shooting. With no experienced frontcourt players other than reserve Javon Baumann, that has to either be highly touted local freshmen Charlie Brown, less highly touted freshmen Nick Robinson, or very inexperienced Chris Clover. Most likely it will have to be a combination of all three, as has been the case so far. Both Robinson and Clover have shown the potential to be solid defenders and rebounders, and both can play at either forward spot, drive hard to the hoop, and get hot from behind the arc. This really helps lessen the blow of losing Demery, as does the play of senior walk-on Brendan Casper -who is kind of a poor man's Dalton Pepper.
Like Saint Joseph's, Villanova has a potential star-in-waiting at the forward position in local product and former super sub Mikal Bridges. Bridges has done everything on the court for the Wildcats -including hit threes- and like last year has been an impact player on both ends and an X-Factor. Villanova easily wins both forward positions in this matchup with James Demery injured but the Hawks have more potential depth when you add in Nick Robinson and Chris Clover and especially with a healthy Demery hopefully playing again sooner rather than later.
With no Daniel Ochefu or Omari Spellman, the Hawks actually matchup pretty strongly with Villanova at the Center position. Redshirt sophomore Markell Lodge is undersized and inexperienced but he's built very strong and is athletic, and Javon Baumann gives the Hawks great size when he wants to actually play up to it. Redshirt sophomore Fordham transfer Eric Paschall is a very talented stretch four who plays tough at the five position for the Wildcats but a strong performance from Baumann can at the very least make the Center position a competitive matchup which the Hawks could actually win. Of course there's Central PA freshmen Center Dylan Painter but he pretty much never plays for Villanova, and Saint Joseph's also has 6'9" Philadelphia product Jai Williams to neutralize him.
This game might not have the big names of the past on the Saint Joseph's side but it could end up being the most interesting battle of the Holy War in quite awhile. It could also be a blowout. The Hawks are very inconsistent like that this year, as young and inexperienced teams tend to be. Throw all of that out the window come one o'clock though because the Holy War -like the Big 5 in general- doesn't adhere to stats and is rarely dictated by prior performances. Anything can happen at the Pavilion so be sure to tune in.