Saint Joseph's to play Villanova on the Hill

St. Joe's will host Villanova on campus this year, instead of at the Palestra. (H. Rumph Jr/AP file photo)

WHEN YOUR TEAM has lost 20 games in consecutive seasons, you look for an edge. And when two of your Big 5 opponents, teams you have not been able to beat in recent seasons, always play their home games against you on their campus, you decide to change your philosophy.

For the first time since the Big 5 was formed, Saint Joseph's will play its game with Villanova on its campus at Hagan Arena. The game is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 17. Though the date has not been set, St. Joe's also will play Temple at Hagan this season in the school's annual home and home.

Phil Martelli said that as long he is the coach, the Hawks would always play Big 5 home games at the Palestra. Well, SJU has not been very good the past two seasons. The fan support has waned. The home-court edge that used to be so strong is gone. This is a way to get some juice back into a program and the arena.

So, the change, a big change, has been made. And it is certainly not unreasonable. SJU really has been taking the worst of it by playing those Big 5 home games at the Palestra. It was a very nice gesture, but gestures don't help the win-loss column.

"This," Martelli said, "might get people's attention."

It will do that.

"There's been a lot of discussion at the highest levels on campus about creating the buzz, getting the fervor and the fire back," Martelli said. "How do you do it? The easy thing is to say win games. To get the building where it's kind of bursting at the seams again."

And there is this.

"It's a way to get people to sit up and pay attention again," Martelli said.

The Villanova game at the Palestra has always been a sellout. The Temple game there either sold out or came close. So, the university will not be selling as many tickets to the games, as Hagan's 4,200 is just less than half the Palestra's 8,722. But the home-court edge will be much more pronounced.

This is not necessarily a permanent change. In future seasons, St. Joe's could decide to play its Temple home game at the Palestra. It could take its every-other-season Villanova home game back to the Palestra as well.

"In kind of whispering it out there to see what the reaction would be, the people kept asking me the same question, saying 'What is best for the program today?' " Martelli said.

As far as his Palestra pledge, Martelli said: "I am loud and clear on my love of the Palestra. I'm loud and clear on my love of the tradition, Philadelphia basketball. At this moment in time, if somebody wants to say that this is a selfish act or it's two-faced, at least they're talking about us."

St. Joe's has been scheduling La Salle at the Palestra. Each school agreed to that a while back. St. Joe's has been playing its home game with Penn at the Palestra even though it is the Quakers' home floor. It is Penn's home game this season so it will be at the Palestra. In future seasons, St. Joe's will always have the option of moving that game to Hagan.

SJU will have a total of 15 games at Hagan this season, eight Atlantic 10 games (not yet scheduled) and seven nonconference games.

During one stretch, the Hawks will play seven consecutive games at home, starting Nov. 26 against Penn State, followed by Drexel (Nov. 30), Boston University (Dec. 7), Creighton (Dec. 10), Villanova, Coppin State (Dec. 21) and Morgan State (Dec. 28).

The very young Hawks really started to play well at the end of last season, making it all the way to the A-10 Tournament semifinals before losing in the final seconds to Dayton. During last season, Martelli talked about getting more home games and a more manageable schedule for his team. That has been done.

"I'm making a real concerted effort to get that student season-ticket body back to a thousand strong," Martelli said. "It impacts our play. It impacts our recruiting. It impacts the image of the program."

And there is always winning.

"We're going to win," Martelli promised.


Home games (CAPS) at Hagan Arena

Friday, Nov. 11: at Western Kentucky

Monday, Nov. 14: SCRANTON (exhibition)

Nov. 17-20: Charleston (S.C.) Classic

Thursday, Nov. 17: vs. Georgia Tech

Friday, Nov. 18: vs. Seton Hall or VCU

Sunday, Nov. 20: at Charleston Classic

(LSU, Northwestern, Tulsa, W. Kentucky)

Wednesday, Nov. 23: at Iona

Saturday, Nov. 26: PENN STATE

Wednesday, Nov. 30: DREXEL

Wednesday, Dec. 7: BOSTON U.

Saturday, Dec. 10: CREIGHTON

Saturday, Dec. 17: VILLANOVA

Wednesday, Dec. 21: COPPIN STATE

Wednesday, Dec. 28: MORGAN STATE

Saturday, Dec. 31: at Harvard

Saturday, Jan. 21: at Penn