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Game Preview: No. 10 Villanova vs. La Salle

Villanova takes on their third straight Big 5 opponent, how much will of a threat will a NCAA Sweet Sixteen team like La Salle pose?

John Gianinni's suits got nothing on Jay Wright dawg
John Gianinni's suits got nothing on Jay Wright dawg
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

No. 10 Villanova has been on an undefeated tear as of late. The Wildcats have won nine straight, jumped to the best start the program has seen in a few seasons and reached the AP Top 10 for the first time since 2011.

So for their next matchup against La Salle Unniversity, I sat down with my buddy Andrew Albert from and the Philadelphia Daily News to talk a little Big 5 basketball, Villanova v. La Salle and of course the matchup of two guard heavy teams.

The following is a back and forth of questions and analysis from Albert and I on Sunday's matchup between the Wildcats and the Explorers.

Tynes: Andrew, in your mind, how has La Salle performed so far this season?

Albert: La Salle has underperformed this year. Plain and simple. The key is putting a finger on where they are going wrong. Losing just Ramon Galloway, many expected them to be at the same level that got them into the NCAA tournament last year. Surprisingly, they look like a very different team. The offense is where the trouble starts. They cannot seem to get anything going, or develop any rhythm on the offensive end of the floor. They are shooting just 40 percent from the floor, which is down from last year. The troubling part is their shooting from beyond the arc. They are shooting less than 30 percent from downtown, an area they have excelled the last couple of years. They are a frustrated team right now, but their comeback win against Stony Brook at Madison Square Garden was a step in the right direction.

Albert: In your eyes, what has made Villanova so successful this season?

Tynes: For me it's been a combination of really small things. First, their depth. Villanova's nine-man rotation has been incredible, especially when they've been shooting or playing poorly (which believe it or not, has been a lot of games this season.) Dylan Ennis, Josh Hart, Tony Chennault and Kris Jenkins have all been stellar on D and are high energy players that create more opportunities on both ends of the floor.

Second, defense. Jay Wright switches between a half court pressure defense and a three-fourth press between games that leaves teams frazzled. They give up a lot to teams on the perimeter but they force a bunch of turnovers and are top-15 in rebounds per game using mainly guards.

Lastly, the emergence of James Bell has done wonders this season. He's making a big argument for first team All Big East in my eyes. Though he's not always efficient from the floor, he's second on the team in scoring and plays when it matters: late in games down the stretch and hits big shots. And back to back.

Tynes: What threat does La Salle bring to Villanova on Sunday, especially with a week to dissect the squad?

Albert: One area that La Salle could exploit Villanova is down in the post. Steve Zack is much improved, and has four double doubles in a row. He has become a threat on the offensive end as a back to the basket player than can dump in buckets when the Explorers need him. He had 14 rebounds in the matchup against the Wildcats last year to go along with eight points. A more polished post player that could really hurt Villanova is Jerrell Wright. He has been missing a lot of easy shots in the post this year, but got back on the right track against Stony Brook. He has 21 points and five rebounds to pace the Explorers in his best offensive performance this year. If those two can get going down low, it opens up driving lanes for the guards, and can lead to open threes that could get them back on track from beyond the arc.

Albert: What is most surprising about the success Villanova has had this year?

Tynes: I'd have to say them still being undefeated while throwing so many turnovers. Outside of Iowa and Kansas, not too many teams have had the firepower to stick with Villanova for all 40 minutes, as the 'Cats are scoring 83 points a game, good for 34th in the NCAA. But the alarming thing about them is that even against a pretty average schedule outside of the Bahamas so far, is how many turnovers a team this good is losing. Villanova gives up 12.8 turnovers a game, good for 115 in 9 games this season, with highs all during their stint in Paradise Island. Although they had a season-low, 5, against SJU, this can't keep happening if they want to continue to be this dominant everywhere else. They're eventually going to get pushed to the limit, like Iowa and Kansas, and maybe drop a contest unless this gets fully under control.

Tynes: Do you think La Salle's guard play can outplay one of the superior defensive backcourt rotations in the NCAA?

Albert: Do I think they can? Yes. Do I think they will? No. The combo of Tyreek Duren, Tyrone Garland, Sam Mills, D.J. Peterson and now Khalid Lewis can run with anybody in the country when they are firing on all cylinders. They are far from doing that right now. Duren is dealing with a bad foot, and his numbers have shown that. He is still averaging 13.6 points per game, but he has been much less of a factor than expected. He has not shown that he is willing to take over late in games, and is not shooting the ball well from downtown. Garland is scoring the ball at a high clip, but taking way too many poor quality shots that get the Explorers into trouble. His lack of effort on the defensive end has came back to bite him. Sam Mills is averaging just 7.2 points per game, and cannot find any rhythm with his shots. Peterson, who was one of the sharpest of the Explorers shooters last season, is shooting just 20.8 percent from downtown. Lewis has only had a few practices under his belt, so it is hard to judge his limited game time. All of them are having trouble is different areas. They have the talent to turn it around and get back to the dominance at the guard position that they had last year, but it will take some time.

Albert: What weaknesses on defense do you think La Salle has the possibility to exploit?

Tynes: That's the thing, where it seems you find weakness with the Explorers offense is consistency from the perimeter (29.5 3PT%), the Explorers will be able to get a lot of shots up from deep. Villanova has allowed 177 three point attempts in nine games this season, and though that number is a tad high and the Wildcats don't always close out hard on perimeter attempts, opponents are only shooting 33.3 3PT% against them. If the Explorers get a few shots from deep to fall in the first half, they can put Villanova on edge. The same way they were going into the half against Penn and SJU. It's all a matter of the second half if La Salle wants to compete.

Tynes: What player do you think will have a big game against the Wildcats and why?

Albert: I think that Khalid Lewis is going to have a breakout game for La Salle. He sat out the opening few games of the season with a broken hand. He did not practice until last week, so he has been playing with no practice and a healing hand. He had this past week of practice full, so he should be more in the swing of things with the offense. He has shown prowess on the defensive end as a lock-down defender. On the offensive end, it has been hard to judge because of the aforementioned variables, but has shown flashes of good play. It should be interesting to see what he can do against a premier team.

Albert: Who do you think carries Villanova Sunday?

Tynes: It's hard not to think JayVaughn Pinkston for this game. With La Salle lacking a true wing player, Pinkston should have the best mismatch of the game. His quickness from 15 feet to the post will make him a mismatch on Jerrel Wright and Steve Zack and his strength should be able to get him to the line and some of the Explorer bigs into foul trouble early as well as potentially keep them at bay in the defensive post if Jay Wright uses one of his "super small ball" lineups.

Tynes: Villanova is beating Big 5 opponents by an average of 26.5 points in two games, over or under for La Salle? Do they keep this in single digits?

Albert: I think that La Salle keeps it under that 26.5 you mentioned. Typically, Big 5 games are close. La Salle has had a track record in the last two years of not being blown out, and I don't think they will be Saturday. I'm not sure they keep it in single digits, but it should be close for most, if not all of the game. These players have too much pride and respect for Philadelphia basketball to take a beating like that. I think it will be right around a five point game at half, with the first six minutes of the second half deciding the game.

Albert: Who wins this game and why?

Tynes: Villanova does. The Wildcats should be able to straight outrun the Explorers. Double digit win as high as 21 and as low as 12. I don't think the inconsistent guard play of La Salle can match up with Villanova right now in the season.

Big thanks to Andrew Albert for chatting with me. Villanova takes on La Salle on Sunday afternoon in their last Big 5 encounter of 2013.