Preview breakdown: La Salle v. Villanova

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Andrew Koob (@AndrewKoob)

Sunday afternoon marks the beginning of the Big 5 season when the Villanova Wildcats travel to Tom Gola Arena for a bout with the La Salle Explorers. The 31st meeting between the Wildcats and Explorers features two teams with plenty of talent and one bad loss on the resume that has both fanbases wondering where exactly their team’s ceiling is. Here’s a position-by-position breakdown on the Big 5 opener:

Sharpshooting freshman Ryan Arcidiacono should help fix the Wildcats’ issues from beyond the arc. (Photo: Josh Verlin)

Point guard: Ryan Arcidiacono vs. Tyreek Duren
Freshman Ryan Arcidiacono has impressed in his first few starts with the Wildcats, but has only had one game where he has hit more than three shots (went 6-of-11 shooting in a 80-68 win over Marshall). While the freshman has the upper-hand on Duren in assists and rebounds, he also has the larger turnover average, committing 3.2 turnovers compared to Duren’s 2.3.

Both point guards log major minutes for their respective teams, with Arcidiacono logging 34.6 minutes for the Wildcats (highest on the team) and Duren playing 35.7 minutes per game for the Explorers (second-highest). Both guards will be in for a long day against each other but, with Arcidiacono playing in his first Big 5 game and Duren having two years of playing time under his belt, experience may shadow talent on Sunday.

Advantage: La Salle

Shooting guard: Darrun Hilliard vs. Sam Mills
Mills logs the most minutes for the Explorers with 38.3 minutes per game but, on a very starter-reliant roster, is only the fourth leading scorer with 10.7 points per game. The junior guard finds other ways to help his teammates, grabbing 3.3 rebounds per game and dishing out 1.7 assists, while taking care of the ball with an average of 0.7 turnovers.

While he doesn’t get as much floor time as Mills, Hilliard sees a fair share of minutes, averaging 27.4 minutes per game while scoring 11.4 points per game. The sophomore guard doesn’t shoot often but, when he does, it usually goes in. Hilliard is shooting 48.8% from the field and 42.9% from beyond the arc.

In a “whatever you can do, I can do better” matchup, Mills and Hillard boast fairly similar stats this season. Where Hilliard one-ups Mills, however, is the shooting percentage, where Hilliard shoots 12.1 percent better than Mills, who has shot 36.7 percent on the year. Another close matchup but this one has a slight ‘Nova advantage.

Advantage: Villanova

La Salle guard Ramon Galloway drives by sophomore guard Kyle Anderson in the season opener for La Salle. (Photo: Anson Marsh)

Wing: James Bell vs. Ramon Galloway
This matchup is one of the more intriguing head-to-head matchups heading into this game. Galloway bests Bell when it comes to setting his teammates up with shots (2.7 assists to 1.4), while Bell has the edge on cleaning the glass (5.6 rebounds to 4.3).

Both score at almost the same rate (Galloway scores 11.7 points per game, while Bell averages 11.8 points), but Bell, with a 42.3 percent field goal percentage, has the slight advantage on hitting shots over Galloway, who shoots at a 38.7 percent clip. The two guards have the ability to carry their respective teams if they need it, but it could just as easily be a wash between the two.

Advantage: Push

Forward: Jayvaughn Pinkston vs. Jerrell Wright

Wright, a La Salle sophomore, has stepped his game up since last year. In a small, three-game sample, Wright leads the Explorers in scoring with 12.3 points per game and rebounds with 8.3 per game. Last year, in a smaller role, he scored 9.8 points per game while grabbing an average of 5.6 boards.

While Wright has yet to play against a talented “four”, he’ll get the chance to do so against Pinkston, who had the ability to battle down low, despite a two-inch height difference against Wright. The sophomore Wildcat, in four games this season, is averaging 11 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, while averaging 43.3 percent from the field.

At this (albeit early) point in the season, Wright has the upper-hand on Pinkston. With a small size advantage at the “four”, the Explorers will most likely look Wright’s way in crunch time, hoping he can deliver and pull out the win in this year’s first Big 5 game.

Advantage: La Salle

Center: Mouphtaou Yarou vs. Steve Zack
Zack had a great game against Delaware’s Jamelle Haggins to open the season, who averages a double-double on the year, as he scored 19 points and grabbing eight rebounds. However, since that opening game, Zack has failed to make as big an impact. In two games against Central Connecticut State and Hartford, Zack had a combined seven points and eight rebounds in 34 minutes.

The La Salle center will go up against one of the Big East’s best big men in Yarou. The senior from Natitingou, Benin is off to a relatively rough start to the season, as Yarou is averaging 5.4 points and five rebounds per game while only shooting 31.8 percent from the floor. In a game where he went 2-of-7 for seven points and seven rebounds in a disappointing loss to Columbia University, Yarou will be one of many of his Wildcat teammates looking to bounce back.

Yarou brings talent and experience to this matchup and, while Zack had an impressive performance against Delaware earlier this year, it’s tough to look away from four years of Big 5 experience for one standout game and a couple of duds.

Advantage: Villanova

A Wake Forest transfer, Tony Chennault will play in his first Big Five game this Sunday against La Salle. (Photo: Josh Verlin)

Villanova Bench (Maurice Sutton, Tony Chennault, Achraf Yacoubou, Daniel Ochefu) vs. La Salle Bench (D.J. Peterson, Rohan Brown)
La Salle relies heavily on their starting five, as they average 152.6 of the 200 available minutes. Peterson and Brown average a combined 11 points per game while seeing 39.7 minutes of action per game (Peterson with 29 minutes, Brown with 14.7). Both have shot the ball exceptionally well from the floor, with Peterson hitting 60 percent of shots and Brown knocking down 55.6 percent from the field. While Brown is in his first season with the team, Peterson is enjoying his time in an expanded role from last year, where he averaged three points per game in 17.9 minutes per game.

While Villanova doesn’t have the same impact as the two Explorer bench players they do have plenty of depth that can cause problems for La Salle in the latter stages of the game. The four Wildcats off the bench average a combined 16.6 points and pull down 12 rebounds per game. The ability to seamlessly transition from the starters to the bench players will be key for Villanova, as La Salle has the ability to stick with some of their starters (mainly Wright and Duren) throughout the entire game.

For the amount of players they use off of the bench, the Explorers get the most out of their two main players that start the game sitting. But, with two upperclassmen and two budding stars in Yacoubou and Ochefu, fresh legs could make all the difference in what looks to be a tightly contested game.

Advantage: Villanova

Villanova vs. La Salle Features
Chennault, Duren share special bond: Andy Edwards, Nov. 23

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