Keys to The Holy War

On Tuesday night, Jay Wright and his undefeated Villanova Wildcats will travel down Lancaster Avenue to City Line Avenue for this year's edition of The Holy War. St. Joe's and Villanova tip at 7 o'clock Tuesday night at Hagan Arena. Keys to the game are inside.

St. Joe's and Villanova will square off Tuesday night at Hagan Arena in a match-up that appears, on paper, to be a good one. There are NBA prospects on both sides, with Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart on the Villanova side and DeAndre Bembry on the Hawks' side. Both squads are off to strong starts this year, with Villanova entering at 6-0 with wins over Nebraska, Akron, Stanford, and Georgia Tech. The Cats are ranked 8th nationally. St. Joe's is 4-1, with their lone loss to Florida in a game they led 59-53 before crumbling down the stretch.

In order to prepare for Tuesday's game, here are a handful of match-ups and factors to pay attention to.

Villanova is a team that can go on blistering runs, and that's due to their depth and guard play. In a matter of two or three minutes, they are more than capable of going on a run that extends a 4-point lead to an 18-point lead, putting the game out of reach. That's due to their depth and guard play. Villanova doesn't have any one particular player that is a 'knock-down' three-point shooter, but they have a handful of guys that can knock down shots. Phil Booth (33%), Josh Hart (33%), Ryan Arcidiacono (35%), and Kris Jenkins (33%) are all guys that can make you pay from deep. On the year, the Cats are 57-189 from deep, good for 30%.

Over the years, the Hawks have struggled defending the three-point line. They've been better, however, this year. Old Dominion went just 4-19 from three, Florida went 8-32, and Buffalo 7-23 in the Hawks' last three games. If Phil Martelli's bunch is going to stand a chance on Tuesday, it will be up to the Hawks to defend the three. Look for James Demery, who did a brilliant job on ODU's Trey Freeman last weekend, to get his chance against Josh Hart.

St. Joe's is out of the gate strong this year, at 4-1, and that is despite a rather pedestrian start to the year for DeAndre Bembry. One could certainly argue, and I would, that Isaiah Miles has been St. Joe's best player to date this year. In order for the Hawks to truly have a chance on Tuesday, they will likely need Bembry to be the best player on the court. He will also need to be more assertive. Last year, DeAndre averaged just under 15 shot attempts per game. This year, through five games, that number is down to 10.6. He is looking to get his teammates involved, and frankly, this is a better team. That being said, Tuesday night, Bembry will need to shoulder much of the scoring load. He has done a terrific job getting to the free-throw line, where he's shooting a very respectable 71%. He will need to put pressure on the likes of Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson, and Kris Jenkins defensively. That being putting the ball on the deck, not settling for threes (1-11 so far this year), and making plays off the bounce.

St. Joe's lone loss this season was to a Florida team that beat the Hawks on the glass by a margin of 46-35. The Gators also corralled 18 offensive rebounds, and one sequence in particular in the second half was a dagger for the Hawks. After missing their first three shots on a possession, the Gators grabbed yet another offensive board, kicked it out, and hit a momentum-shifting three. That exact scenario could play itself out on Tuesday. Villanova's Daniel Ochefu is a load in the paint, averaging 9.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game so far this year. At 6'11, 245-pounds, he is tough to push out of the paint. So far this year, the Hawks have gone small, starting forwards Isaiah Miles and Pierfrancesco Oliva in the front court. That hasn't been an issue, except in the Florida game. It could again tomorrow. Phil Martelli's offense appears less crisp when Oliva is out of the game and either Javon Baumann or Jai Williams come in for him. However, the Hawks may need their size, and their fouls, against Ochefu, Darryl Reynolds, and Kris Jenkins.

Tuesday night may be the only time St. Joe's fans see Jalen Brunson in person against St. Joe's. The freshman phenom point guard is certainly in the mix to be a one, maybe two, year college player. Brunson and Arcidiacono are about as good a one-two point guard punch as you're going to find in America this year. Shavar Newkirk and Lamarr Kimble will have their hands full, but I don't think either will be backing down. Kimble in particular has experience from the Nike EYBL AAU circuit matching up with Brunson. In the July before their senior years, the two went head-to-head at the Peach Jam, and many in attendance thought Kimble actually got the better of the match-up. Following that game, Creighton offered the Team Final lead guard. Can Kimble channel some of that magic again at the college level?

To be blunt, the Hawks have been manhandled in their last two Holy Wars. Playing in front of what should be a raucous crowd at Hagan Arena, it will be imperative that the Hawks get off to a strong start and try to limit Nova's runs. They'll go on at least one or two, but the key will be making sure they don't let things get out of hand. The line opened up with Villanova as 8.5 point favorites but has since jumped up to 10.5. Villanova is a top-10 team. The Cats have terrific guard play, a skilled senior big man in Daniel Ochefu, and talented ancillary pieces like Mikal Bridges that could go off. Playing in front of the home crowd, with the best player on either team, I am giving the Hawks a shot in this one. They need to defend the three, limit Nova's offensive rebounds, and get contributions from players that have, to date, really impressed this year. While Bembry will need to be great, St. Joe's will need Isaiah Miles, James Demery, and the point guards to do their share as well. If so, we will have a game. If not, it could get ugly like the last two years.

I will have comprehensive post-game coverage from Hawk Hill Tuesday night.

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