No fans will be at Finneran Pavilion on Saturday night, nor will there be rollouts, cheerleaders, bands, nor cries of “The Hawk will never die” or “The Hawk is dead.”
However, what’s really, really important to players and coaches at Villanova and St. Joseph’s is, there will be a game.
“As we know, I think this year with this pandemic, as much as it’s religion in Philadelphia with the Big 5, getting games in is bigger this year,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said Friday. “But any time we get to play the Philly schools, it’s always special for Philadelphia basketball. We all know that, we all love it.”
“We have been in touch with St. Joe’s. We had plans to play them up at Mohegan Sun. We were going to play them when we came back from there, we were going to switch the date. So we’re all talking to each other because when games get canceled, we know there’s a possibility that we can throw one together, with the value of the Big 5 and the great relationships we all have with each other.”
The seventh-ranked Wildcats (6-1) and the Hawks (0-3) were scheduled to play on Nov. 30 but the game was postponed because of COVID issues in the St. Joseph’s program. The rescheduled game was generated after Nova’s Saturday date at Madison Square Garden with Virginia was canceled because the Cavaliers were battling the coronavirus.
This will be the first meeting of Big 5 opponents this season. With no round-robin on the books, with Penn not playing and schedules being fluid in a pandemic, there is some happiness to see the city rivals play.
“The Big 5 is an institution, so it’s probably critical that it continues to breathe any way that it can,” St. Joe’s coach Billy Lange said. “Although in a disjointed year where we don’t get the round-robin, at least we get a game. Hopefully, this will be a sense of joy for our universities and all the alums that follow these programs with such great passion.”
This marks the middle game of a busy stretch for the Hawks that began with Thursday night’s 81-77 loss at Drexel and continues Monday night at No. 10 Tennessee.
“It’s got to make sense,” Lange said. “I don’t know if playing three games in [five] days makes sense. But I feel like our guys understand it. It’s an awakening. We’re trying to elevate St. Joe’s basketball on its great history and foundation. This is an awakening for anyone that wants to aspire to be at a very high level.”
The Wildcats have four players who average in double figures led by Collin Gillespie at 15.6 points per game and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl at 15.4. They have been careful with the basketball, averaging just 8.1 turnovers and knocking down 10 three-point baskets per game.
Defensively, they need to find a way to neutralize Ryan Daly, the Hawks’ physical 6-foot-5 redshirt senior guard who scored 32 points against the Cats last year on Hawk Hill. Coming off a 30-point performance Thursday night at Drexel, Daly averages 20.7 points in St. Joe’s up-tempo offense.
“We know how tough he is to guard,” Gillespie said. “He does a little bit of everything. He can really shoot the ball, he can get to the rim, and he’s very physical. He uses his body really well around the rim to create his own shots so he’s a really dynamic guard.”
So even though the Pavilion will be quiet again, the action on the court will speak loudly.
“It’s good playing these guys for us because they know what we do, as do teams in our league, and it’s always good to see what they do against us,” Wright said. “We learn from these games. These games, as good as they are for the city of Philadelphia, which they are, they’re always valuable to us.”
Villanova-St. John’s postponement
The Big East announced late Friday that the Dec. 30 game between Villanova and St. John’s at Finneran Pavilion has been postponed, but not because of any positive COVID tests.
“We just thought our players needed a break,” Wright said. “Their well-being is our top priority. We appreciate that St. John’s is in agreement with us on this in wanting the same for their players.”