Matthew Ryan (@matthewryan02)
This week proved once again that there are two current tiers of the Big 5: Villanova, and Everybody Else.
The Wildcats opened up their city series play with three contests over six days where they not only went undefeated, they were hardly even challenged. Their first game was a 25-point victory over La Salle, followed by a 15-point win over Penn. Jay Wright’s squad then punctuated the week with a dominant 81-52 victory over Saint Joseph’s on Saturday in front of a sold out crowd at the Pavilion.
“That is a great Villanova basketball team. I believe it’s the best team (Wright) has had in 20 years,” Hawks coach Billy Lange, a former Villanova associate head coach under Wright, said following the loss. “You can't say anyone’s perfect, because none of us are perfect, but to me that’s a perfect team.”
Collin Gillespie (above) surpassed the 20-point mark for the second game in a row as Villanova beat St. Joe's on Saturday. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The victory extended Villanova’s Big 5 win streak to eight and gave the Wildcats their 33rd victory in their last 34 Big 5 games.
From start to finish, the No. 6 Wildcats looked the part of their prestigious national ranking, outdoing the Hawks in every aspect.
The Wildcats opened the game on a 26-11 spurt that was cut to six late in the first half, but by the time intermission came around Villanova had a 12 point cushion. In the second half, the Wildcats put up 47 points, outscoring the Hawks by 17 and seeing their lead grow to as large as 35 with under five minutes to go in the game.
Shooting efficiency was a major area of dominance for Villanova (6-2, 3-0 Big 5), shooting greater than 50% from the field (28-of-53) and 3-point range (13-25) and 92.3% from the free throw line (12-13). St. Joe’s (4-4, 0-2), on the other hand, continued its shooting struggles, making less than 37% of their field goals (21-58) and 23% of their threes (7-31), not to mention going just 3-7 from the charity stripe.
On Saturday, the Wildcats’ performance came without scoring guard Caleb Daniels who was out with an illness. Daniels has been a spark plug off the bench for Villanova, averaging 9.4 points while shooting 37% from deep in his second season playing on the Main Line. Depth has already been an issue this year for the Wildcats, with no freshmen cementing themselves in the rotation and guard Bryan Antione sidelined with a patella tendon injury.
With Daniels out, Wright increased the role of junior guard Chris Arcidiacono who entered the contest playing 14.6 minutes per game. On Saturday, Arcidiacono played a season-high 26 minutes, not shooting the ball much but making each shot count, going 2-2 from deep and 2-2 from the free throw line for a career-high eight points. Arcidiacono also added five boards in the Wildcats’ 36-28 advantage on the glass.
“His value to our team is off the charts, before he ever stepped on the floor in a game,” Wright said of Arcidiacono who entered Saturday's game averaging under two points per game. “I would always tell him last year, I’ll throw you in a game at any time, Arch, because I’ve got confidence in you. Now it’s to the point where he knows everything we do, and he’s a valuable member of our team and he’s going to keep getting better.”
“I’m always proud of Arch. He’s our rock coming off the bench,” Wright said.
Chris Arcidiacono (above) played a season-high 26 minutes and set a new career high in scoring. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Arcidiacono, a Neshaminy graduate, knows a thing or two about Big 5 basketball. In addition to being from the Philadelphia area, Arcidiacono watched his older brother Ryan Arcidiacono go 14-2 in Big 5 contests during his four year career at Villanova.
Ryan’s advice to his younger brother heading into a Big 5 game is no different than any other contest Chris plays in.
“A lot of the advice he gives me is just to be the hardest-playing guy on the floor, just do everything you can for your teammates,” the younger Arcidiacono said. “He doesn’t give me any advice for anything else like (playing in the Big 5), just to play Villanova basketball the best I can.”
While Arcidiacono was the leading scorer off a depleted Villanova bench, guard Collin Gillespie led the way for the starters with a game-high 23 points, coming after his season high 26 points against Penn. He knocked down a season-high-tying five 3s on just seven attempts while adding four rebounds and three assists.
Gillespie’s backcourt-mate Justin Moore found his scoring mojo — although it took a half — after a quiet first two games of Big 5 play, where he scored under double figures for the only times this season. At the break against St. Joe’s, Moore was held scoreless, but in the final frame he put in 16 points with a mix of layups, jumpers and free throws. He also grabbed a game-high seven rebounds and dished out a team-high four assists.
Not only did Moore deliver on the offensive end, but he was tasked with guarding reigning CoBL Co-Player of the Month Taylor Funk and held him scoreless in 38 minutes of action.
“Justin just did an incredible job,” Wright said. “He’s our best defender. We don’t talk about it a lot because we play a lot of good team defense, but we always put him on the best player, and he carries a lot of responsibility. He was outstanding today.”
The Wildcats have a bit of a break before their next Big 5 game on December 29th against Temple. A win will give them their seventh title in eight years and put them ahead of Temple for most Big 5 Championships with what would be their 28th. It will be a game that Villanova is expected to win, like most Big 5 games over the past decade or so, but Wright’s squad won’t enter it with that mindset.
“If we’re off a little bit against one of these teams, we’re going to get beat,” Wright said. “And, our guys, I really respect our guys’ intelligence that they know that. Because fans talk about it like ‘oh you blow through these games,’ which you really don’t. … These games are valuable to us, man, because we know how good these teams are, and I think we play well in these games because we respect them so much.”
St. Joe’s shooting struggles continue
St Joe’s entered Saturday's game ranked in the 200s across college basketball in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and free-throw percentage, and after its poor shooting performance against Villanova, those rankings will only get worse.
The Hawks shot 21-58 (36.2%) from the field, 7-31 (22.6%) from three and 3-7 (42.9%) from the free throw line. Funk, St. Joe’s leading scorer entering the game averaging 17.4 points, shot 0-6 from the field and 0-5 from deep. Jordan Hall paced St. Joe’s with 22 points but took 20 shots to get there, going 8-of-20 overall and 3-of-10 from the 3-point arc.
Center Ejike Obinna (5-for-6, 10 points) was the lone Hawk to shoot above 50% from the field in the contest.