VILLANOVA is rolling right along - unbeaten again, playing great defense again, crushing every team it plays again. Saint Joseph's is clearly better than last season, but are the Hawks good enough to hang with the Wildcats or possibly upset them Tuesday night at Hagan Arena?
Last season's game was non-competitive, a 74-46 'Nova win. That margin was not a fluke. Two years ago, it was Villanova, 98-68. That margin was a fluke. In the second half that night at Hagan, the Wildcats shot 11-for-14 from three while the Hawks, a team that would close 20-5 on its way to an Atlantic 10 championship, were 0-for-9.
Jay Wright's Wildcats are leading the nation in defensive efficiency; yes, even better than No. 1 Kentucky. And that will be the big issue for the Hawks: Can they score?
"They're good on offense," SJU coach Phil Martelli said. "I think they're great defensively, but where they are off the charts is their competitive spirit."
Martelli said everybody talks about their team playing hard. Villanova (6-0) just does it.
"Their intangibles are unbelievable," Martelli said. "(Jalen) Brunson changes the game against Stanford, just sticks his face in there, takes two charges that are called, the third one is called a block."
When you get a player with all the hype that Brunson got so willing to sacrifice for the team, Martelli said that is a winning formula.
Wright thinks the Hawks' offense is better than the one his team faced last season. The numbers back him up. SJU (4-1) finished last season 257th in offensive efficiency. This season, they are 120th.
"They've got good chemistry, really well-defined roles," Wright said. "They play off each other well, a very unselfish team that is really intelligent defensively. They don't foul you, they keep you in front of them, they've got good length."
Villanova (30.2 percent) is not shooting well from the arc yet. SJU (23.7 percent) is shooting worse than all but five Division I teams.
"I have the same concerns I had on Oct. 3 and that's offense," Martelli said. "Everybody who has ever played knows if the ball doesn't go in the basket, I don't care who you are and how mentally tough you are, you can't guard for 40 minutes."
Nobody is scoring on the Wildcats so far.
"I really did not see this coming," Wright said of the early numbers. "I thought we would struggle defensively, I thought we'd struggle rebounding and we are struggling rebounding, but I'm surprised by the defense. I think we are playing intelligently defensively and we're playing together."
SJU presents some interesting matchup dilemmas for Wright with versatile big men Isaiah Miles and Checco Oliva.
"They're unorthodox in a way," Wright said. "They play away from the basket and they're really skilled. They really spread you out."
They do, but, again, can they score on the Wildcats?
"It sounds odd, but this is a real pleasure getting prepared for them because it's probably the way you're supposed to play," Martelli said.