The La Salle Explorers and St. Joseph's University Hawks are set to do battle from inside the Palestra on Saturday.
It will be the first and only meeting between the programs this season; as such, it is both an Atlantic 10 and Big 5 contest, one that will have profound ramifications on this year's city title.
Tip-off is set for 12 p.m. (The Comcast Network / 610 AM (SJU) / 990 AM (La Salle).
Full game preview after the jump...
How We Got Here
In the tale of the two city rivals, it's not quite the best and worst of times, but it isn't that far off either.
Picked to finish second-to-last in the A10 preseason poll, the La Salle Explorers (17-6, 6-2, 1-1) now lead the conference. They have won their last four in the a row and 10 of their last 12. They are 15-3 since opening the season 2-3 following a Nov. 25 loss to Robert Morris. That said, very few of those wins have come against quality opponents (an obviously arguable distinction). Based on how tough they played both Temple and Dayton, there's no doubt La Salle can hang with the best in the A10, but it remains to be seen whether they can hold on to that top spot in what's become a very competitive conference. As the saying goes, "you can only beat the teams on your schedule," something La Salle done and done well. Now, they just need to prove that their early season success in sustainable both down the stretch and, most importantly, with the confines of Boardwalk Hall in March. Given the individual play of Earl Pettis, Ramon Galloway, Tyreek Duren and freshman Jerrell Wright, all indications are that the Explorers are built for the long-haul in 2012.
St. Joseph's (14-9, 4-4, 1-1), on the other hand, opened its season to a decent deal of fan fare. The young Hawks showed promise toward the end of last season with their unexpected mini-run in the A10 tourney and started out especially strong eight months later. Dominant performances over #17 Creighton and Holy War rival Villanova painted the team as a force to be reckoned with out of conference. In conference, however, it's been a different story. The new calendar year has not been kind to St. Joseph's, as the team has gone just 4-6 since their Dec. 28 win over Morgan State. At 4-4 in conference play, they are currently tied for seventh in the A10. Still, despite many a recent setback, the Hawks have found away to keep themselves afloat with key wins to stem their bleeding (1/25 vs. Dayton and 2/1 at Richmond). They'll need more than just the occassional breakout performance moving forward so as not to put themselves at an even greater disadvatage in what could be an absolute bloodbath of Atlantic 10 tournament.
The Matchup: Let's Play a Little Inside-Outside
The Explorers will take the floor with their four guard offense while the Hawks figure to counter with solid height and tremendous leapers C.J. Aiken and Ronald Roberts under the basket.
If there was an early preview of this game already played, fans may only need to look back to last weekend's Temple-St. Joe matchup for an idea of how this one could (not should) play out.
Sure, the Hawks rank second in the nation in blocked shots as a team with 7.9 per game, but it could be hard to have those contested takes prove meaningful if La Salle seems content to shoot over the SJU defense from the perimeter. The Explorers lead the A10 in both field goal and three-point shooting percentage per game at 47.7% and 40.8%, respectively. Though the Hawks are no slouches themselves with both Carl Jones and Langston Galloway more than capable of shooting the ball (Galloway is emerging as one, if not the best jump shooter in the conference), both have also been inconsistent this season, with Jones especially struggling as of late.
At the opposite end, La Salle is defending the perimeter just over 3.5 points better than Joe's (31.9% to 35.5%). In that sense, 31.9% isn't a great average from beyond while 35.5% in certainly closer to respectable. Add in La salle's abnormally high percentage from three and SJU could face their share of troubles on the perimeter.
In the event they choose to over-pursue the pursue the perimeter, they'll certainly have Aiken and Roberts under the basket -- who have no doubt helped to lead the Hawks to second-best defensive FG% in the conference -- but their struggles against the Owls make it hard not to predict similar issues against La Salle. The Explorers and Owls are actually somewhat similar in their styles and rotations (especially before the return of TU's Micheal Eric) in that both teams are deep at the guard position and rely on team defense for a sense of self-identity. Again, Temple's success against St. Joe's doesn't guarantee how this game will play out, just how it could.
Big 5 Ramifications
With Villanova and Penn already settled at 2-2 and 1-3, both St. Joe's and La Salle at 1-1 and neither having played Temple (as part of a Big 5 game), Saturday's game is of the utmost importance when it comes to a shot at this year's city title. Big 5 standings and remaining schedules below:
Feb. 22 -- Temple at La Salle (Gola Arena)
Feb. 25 -- Temple at St. Joseph's (Hagan Arena)
All-Time Series: St. Joe's leads 62-53
Streak: La Salle has won three of the last four and the last three in a row at the Palestra.
Martelli vs. La Salle: 14-8
Giannini (at La Salle) vs. St. Joe's: 3-4
Last Meeting: La Salle won 76-72 on Jan. 27, 2011 at The Palestra. Saint Joseph's Carl jones posted a game-high 24 points, while Aaric Murray led the Explorers with 19 and 14 double-double.
You kids meet for an en masse rollout party in Manayunk last night?