#1 Villanova Wildcats (8-0) vs. La Salle Explorers (4-2)
When: Tuesday, December 6, 2016, at 7 p.m.
Where: The Palestra, Philadelphia, Pa.
La Salle’s Previous Season Record: 9-22
Key Players for La Salle: #20 B.J. Johnson (6-7, 185) Jr., SF; #21 Jordan Price (6-5, 220) Sr., SG; #0 Pookie Powell (6-1, 170) So. PG
Scouting Report: La Salle is a program in flux. For the past three years, they have finished at .500 or below, but are a few lucky bounces away from being undefeated thus far this season. None of the players remain from La Salle’s Cinderella run to the Sweet Sixteen in 2013, but La Salle has assembled a team made up largely of transfers to lead the way for them. The Explorers have been excited for these newcomers to play, as they had to sit out during a rough 2015-16 season in which La Salle only had nine eligible scholarship players. Injuries quickly reduced that number to six by January, and the Explorers couldn’t wait to begin this season. So far, so good. Junior forward B.J. Johnson has been the most notable of the bunch, transferring from Syracuse after his sophomore year. He now leads the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging 18.7 points and 5.7 boards. Johnson has scored with elite efficiency from any point on the floor, shooting 62.8 percent inside the arc and 46.9 percent from behind the three point line. At the free throw line, he’s nearly automatic, converting 92.0 percent of his foul shots. His smooth lefty shot with a high release point allows him to make almost any shot an uncontested one. Johnson also has great athleticism, thriving in transition and on fast breaks. However, this year he looks to have added versatility to his offensive game and is a matchup nightmare for just about any team. However, his lanky frame allows him to be bullied in the post by bulkier opponents. Nearly matching Johnson in scoring for La Salle is senior guard Jordan Price, a former Auburn transfer with an array of moves within the paint and a smooth jumper. He’s led the Explorers in scoring over the last couple of years and is right on par with Johnson with 18.5 points per game. Price has taken the most shots for the Explorers, and while his efficiency pales in comparison to Johnson’s, he is still impressive nonetheless. Making a career-high 41.0 percent from three, Price has been able to space the floor effectively and been a deadly offensive weapon. No longer does he have to carry the team and be the main focal point of opposing defenses. At the point for La Salle is sophomore point guard Pookie Powell, a lightning-quick Memphis transfer whose athleticism allows him to play above the rim despite his diminutive size. Powell is a ballhawk defensively as well, but has struggled with his jumpshot this season, shooting as dismal 22.7 percent from beyond the arc. Then there’s Cleon Roberts, who has stepped up as an offensive threat, even though he’s not the primary scoring option. He is shooting a blistering hot 65.2 percent from 3-point land but is unlikely to sustain his hot shooting performance. The only real big man on the roster is 6-foot-10 center Tony Washington, a defensive specialist that only logs about 15 minutes a game. Besides that, the Explorers have South Carolina transfer Demetrius Henry, a 6-9 forward who’s also playing a similar amount of minutes.
Outlook: La Salle is a very talented three-point shooting team (42.1 percent so far, good for 11th in the nation), but that’s about all they’ve got. They are an incredibly one-dimensional team that are very dangerous when hot, but are extremely beatable when their shots do not fall. If they have had trouble putting away teams like Delaware and Drexel, they shouldn’t be able to hang with the best team in the country. Barring catastrophic injury prior to tipoff tomorrow, it would take a miracle worthy of St. La Salle himself for Villanova to lose this game. Pencil in a ‘W’ for the Wildcats’ first win with the No. 1 ranking this year.