Sunday afternoon brings an exciting matchup between two teams that have gone in opposite directions in the first two months of the season. The red-hot Villanova Wildcats have ascented the national rankings and currently come in as the tenth best team in the country according to the polls. After a cinderella performance in the NCAA Tournament last year and returning just about their entire team minus Ramon Galloway, the La Salle Explorers have already dropped four games and have allowed UMass to hop them in the Atlantic-10 projections. The spread reflects as much movement, as the ‘Cats are available as 14-point favorites ahead of the 2:30 tip.
Villanova’s transition period out of the Scottie Reynolds era and into a fresh one wasn’t seamless. The Wildcats struggled at times as a very young team still adjusting to the college game. Those young players are college veterans now and have ‘Nova right back where it was as a national power. Led by JayVaughn Pinkston, James Bell and Darrun Hilliard – a junior, senior, junior, respectively – Villanova pairs a nice mix of bigs with sharp-shooting guards. Keep in mind, this team rolled through the Atlantis Tournament in the Bahamas by defeating Kansas and Iowa (two ranked teams) in the semi’s and title game. Jay Wright has this team playing familiar basketball with a team-oriented style.
After losing two in a row against Providence and Northern Iowa, the Explorers bounced back to start the mini two game winning streak they are on heading into this tilt with ‘Nova. Mentioned earlier, La Salle really misses do-it-all point guard Ramon Galloway from a year before who graduated in 2013. La Salle is left with perimeter scorers Tyrone Garland and Tyreke Duren. The due combines to average nearly 30 points per game but have been relatively inefficient thus far, which has killed La Salle’s prospective chances to compete in a top-heavy Atlantic-10 Conference. The two biggest x-factors in this game might just be the two bigs. Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack will have to limit the front court of Villanova that loves to crash the offensive boards with ferocity. Zack, in particular, comes and goes a little too often in games but has the ability to be as good as any big man on the floor in this matchup. The 6’11” left-handed junior will need to stay on the floor and log heavy, engaged minutes in this one for La Salle to provide the upset bid.
Even if the Explorers don’t win this game, I expect maximum effort from a team that really needs a resume-building win before conference play opens up. When La Salle gets desperate, it usually can find that little bit extra. Combine that with a number that’s probably a little inflated due to Villanova’s hot start and we have a play with the Explorers.
Free Pick: La Salle +14