The Wildcats (6-1) and Hawks (3-3) resume the city's most visceral rivalry Friday when they meet for the 68th time at the Pavilion. Villanova holds a 43-24 lead in the series and has won five of the last six.
St. Joe's will be the first of three straight Big Five opponents for Villanova, which then plays Penn and La Salle. The city's marquee matchup is expected to be Villanova-Temple, which will be played Dec. 30 at Villanova. The Wildcats have won 21 of their last 23 City Series games.
For St. Joe's, this will be the second of three games in five days. The Hawks' three-game winning streak ended with Wednesday's 62-50 loss at Drexel, leaving them just one day to prepare for the Wildcats.
A comparison of personnel and experience between Villanova and St. Joe's brings to mind the teams' encounter on Feb. 3, 2003, when the Hawks, led by the brilliant backcourt tandem of Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, raced out to a 40-9 lead en route to a 92-75 win. That was a St. Joe's team that was talented, experienced, and nationally ranked against a Villanova team that was too young to avoid getting overwhelmed.
This time, Villanova is the team with one of the nation's best and quickest backcourt pairings in senior Corey Fisher and sophomore Maalik Wayns.
"A very, very difficult environment and one day to turn around, but it's an opportunity because you're playing against one of the best programs in the country, with one of the best coaches [Jay Wright], with arguably one of the top two, three backcourts in America," Martelli said.
Fisher and Wayns will be a handful for St. Joe's, as they are for just about every other team. The Hawks have been starting three freshmen and have two more in the rotation. The best of the first-year players has been guard Langston Galloway, who has shown maturity beyond his years. Sophomore Carl Jones is doing most of the ballhandling and is the leading scorer, but the 5-foot-11, 165-pound Jones will have to overcome the disadvantage in bulk he'll have against Fisher and Wayns.
The Wildcats are also capable of getting the job done with their big, mobile frontcourt. At 6-10 and 250 pounds, sophomore Mouphtaou Yarou is just scratching the surface of his potential. Yarou played sparingly last season because of injuries, so in many ways he's still a freshman.
"The big kid inside is a man-child," Martelli said. "He looks beastly to me."
When Wright substitutes 6-11 Maurice Sutton for Yarou, there's usually no drop-off. The 6-8 Antonio Pena is a fifth-year senior. St. Joe's has its first legitimate shot-blocker in 6-9 C.J. Aiken, but the freshman is rail thin at 185 pounds and is still searching for a comfort zone.
In last season's Villanova-St. Joe's game, the outmanned Hawks were competitive. The Hawks trailed the third-ranked Wildcats by four with two minutes remaining before losing, 97-89. St. Joe's played at a racehorse pace in an attempt to get as many easy baskets as possible. Martelli likely will try to employ that strategy again, and the Wildcats will gladly oblige.
Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or firstname.lastname@example.org.