By Sean Kennedy
12:00 PM: La Salle (11-7, 3-1 A-10) vs. VCU (15-4, 3-1 A-10) – ESPN2
The Explorers had their 5-game win streak snapped by St. Bonaventure earlier this week and will not find things any easier when they host Shaka Smart’s VCU squad. As usual, the Rams are employing the high-pressure, havoc defense made famous by Smart, which has led to the nation’s best turnover margin and the top mark at over 12 steals per game. Briante Weber is the head thief for the Rams, leading the nation at 3.74 steals per game. Unsurprisingly then, VCU is a top-10 defense that will put to the test the decision-making ability of Tyreek Duren, Tyrone Garland, and Sam Mills. La Salle has done an excellent job this season taking care of the ball at just 11 turnovers per games, but haven’t dealt with anything like what the Rams will throw at them.
La Salle was able to defeat VCU on the road last season, but needless to say that was a different group dynamic for the Explorers, especially with former star Ramon Galloway going for 31 in that victory. This time around, VCU isn’t shooting particularly well, but still have some guys who go do some damage on the offensive end, led by Treveon Graham (15 ppg). Like with any VCU game, how their opponent handles the pressure will determine the outcome. La Salle has shown in the past they can keep their calm, it will be exciting to watch whether this year’s edition of the Explorers have what it takes as well.
2:00 PM: Villanova (16-2, 5-1 Big East) @ Marquette (11-8, 3-3 Big East) – Fox Sports 1
With Creighton hitting just about every shot from 30 feet in last game, Villanova never even stood a chance. The Wildcats will look to start another long winning streak and avoid their first 2-game losing streak of the season when they travel to Wisconsin to face the Golden Eagles. Marquette has alternated wins and losses over their last 9 games, needing overtime to decide things in their last two contests.
Always a stout defensive squad, this season is no different for Marquette as opponents are shooting just 40% from the field against them. On the other end, at 6’8″, 290 lbs, forward Davante Gardner is a beast down low for the Golden Eagles with 14 points and 6 rebounds per game; Ochefu will need to stay out of foul trouble and contain the Marquette big man. Villanova squeaked past the Golden Eagles last season at the Pavilion and are a much more experienced and deeper squad this time around. Even on Marquette’s home turf, Jay Wright’s squad should get back on track Saturday afternoon.
4:00 PM: Drexel (10-8, 2-3 CAA) vs. William & Mary (10-7, 2-2 CAA)
The Dragons are starting to get back to full strength but having Dartaye Ruffin and Tavon Allen back in the lineup still wasn’t enough in a loss this week to Delaware. They’ll likely still be without Kaz Abif, but it should be all hands on deck otherwise as Drexel hosts William & Mary. We saw the Tribe trounced by St. Joe’s earlier this season and in these teams’ meeting last year, Drexel secured an easy win behind 19 points from Frantz Massenat.
The Tribe feature an excellent offense, shooting 46% from the floor and 38% from three this season. Junior Marcus Thornton leads the way for William & Mary averaging 19 points per game, while Tim Rusthoven sports averages of 13 points and 6 rebounds; Rusthoven had 19 points in last year’s contest and his 6’9″ frame may cause problems down low for the Dragons with one of their main big men out of the lineup. With the Tribe likely to light up the scoreboard, the trio of Dragons perimeter players will need to keep pace for Drexel to prevail. Getting healthier each and every day, the Dragons should be up to the task.
4:00 PM: Saint Joseph’s (13-5, 3-1 A-10) @ Richmond (13-6, 3-1 A-10) – NBC SN
Having won 4 in a row and 9 of their last 10, the surging Hawks will enter the Spiders’ lair to face a disciplined Richmond squad. The Spiders are on a three-game winning streak of their own, including an impressive victory over UMass in thir last outing. Senior guard Cedrick Lindsay carries Richmond’s offense averaging 19 points and 4 assists, but where the team really hangs its hat is on the defensive end.
Richmond is one of the best defensive teams in the country as opponents are shooting just 28% from three against them, good for 10th-best in the nation. The Hawks will have to rely more on their interior offense which means they’ll need a big effort from forward Ronald Roberts, Jr. He had a double-double in last year’s St. Joe’s win over the Spiders at Hawk Hill. However, playing in Richmond this season, the Spiders could be a potential stumbling block for the Hawks on their trip through the Atlantic 10.
7:30 PM: Pennsylvania (3-11, 1-0 Ivy) vs. N.J.I.T. (8-12, 4-8 away)
After the Quakers looked to have maybe figured things out in a big home win over Princeton, they took a huge step back in front of the College GameDay cameras with a lopsided loss to St. Joe’s. Penn will try to put that result out of their minds as they face arguably their easiest opponent of the season in N.J.I.T. The Highlanders are the only independent in the nation (without conference affiliation) after the Great West conference disbanded. They have yet to defeat any notable opponents, although they did top a Lafayette squad that defeated Penn earlier this season.
5’11” freshman Damon Lynn leads the Highlanders in scoring at 17 per game, jacking up a ton of threes at a decent 39% clip. With no one in N.J.I.T.’s starting lineup taller than 6’6″, Penn should have a huge edge on the interior and on the glass. Expect big nights from Fran Dougherty and Darien Nelson-Henry as Penn tells the Highlanders there can only be one winner, and it will be them.