Villanova will be looking for its fifth consecutive victory when it hosts Big 5 rival Saint Joseph’s on Saturday.
The No. 7 Wildcats improved to 6-1 following an impressive, 85-66 victory over visiting Butler on Wednesday. They were supposed to be preparing for a battle against No. 17 Virginia on Saturday in New York City, but COVID-19 issues with the Cavaliers forced the game to be canceled.
Instead, Villanova will meet Philadelphia foe St. Joe’s (0-3), in an annual rivalry known as the “Holy War.” This game was originally scheduled for Nov. 30, but it had to be postponed because of a COVID-19 problem within the Hawks’ program.
Pennsylvania, La Salle, Saint Joseph’s, Temple, and Villanova comprise the Big 5, a group of teams that competes during the regular season for the Philadelphia city championship, which was won by Villanova last season.
Villanova coach Jay Wright earned his 600th career victory against Butler. Wright’s coaching career began in 1994 at Hofstra. Wright worked there for seven years before building a national program at Villanova, which has included two national championships.
“It just means that I have a really good job,” Wright said. “Every coach who has been here has won a lot of games. We’ve been blessed.”
Wright will push for victory No. 601 against Saint Joseph’s, an improved program but still one that is a work in progress.
Villanova features much more experience highlighted by national player of the year candidate Collin Gillespie, who scored 18 points against the Bulldogs. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl also added 18 points.
Butler played just its second game after a COVID-19 pause. Saint Joseph’s will be in the same situation as this will only be its fourth game.
Butler jumped out to a seven-point lead and played well early.
“This was their first game after a pause,” Wright said. “That’s a tough spot to be in. There’s no way to prepare for that.”
Saint Joseph’s had solid aspirations for an improved season after a maddening, 6-26 record last season.
But the Hawks will enter Saturday following an 81-77 loss Thursday at Drexel. Ryan Daly led the way as usual with 30 points, while Taylor Funk added 14.
Like their first two games, the Hawks played well in long stretches. But they were unable to locate the consistency needed to win.
St. Joe’s opened the season with losses to Auburn and Kansas in Fort Myers, Fla. The loss to Auburn was a frustrating, five-point defeat in overtime despite a career-best 28 points from Funk.
A long pause due to COVID-19 caused games against Villanova, Bradley and Temple to be postponed.
St. Joe’s coach Billy Lange, a former assistant at Villanova, said he was optimistic after losses to Auburn and Kansas.
“I’m not intensely concerned,” Lange said. “It’s just, how do we get them better, what do we need to do to produce? Is it confidence, is it spirit, is it player development, or more of it? Is it getting these guys used to playing with different people? Just searching for the answers.
“But I have no doubt in any of those guys, we want them to stay on the attack,” Lange added. “You know, 5 for 9 and 1 for 9 is a very fine line, just a few more makes here or there … we’ll believe in those guys and we’ll continue to ask those guys to be aggressive.”
–Field Level Media