By Sean Kennedy
7:00 PM: Drexel (8-5, 0-0 CAA) @ William & Mary (8-5, 0-0 CAA)
A team on the brink of crisis after losing three of their past four games, the Dragons will enter conference play badly in need of a win as they take on the Tribe. Drexel’s offense has cratered recently, as they shot a combined 36% from the field across those 3 losses. None of their three top scorers in Fouch, Massenat, and Allen are even shooting as well as 40% on the season, a stat that will have to improve if Drexel is to make any noise in the Colonial Athletic this season.
They’ll have a chance to get the offense going against a William & Mary squad that has struggled mightily on the defensive end this season. However, they’ll also have to deal with the Tribe’s efficient scoring attack, led by junior guard Marcus Thornton, who leads the team with 19.5 ppg while shooting a high volume of threes at a respectable 36.9% clip. The Tribe being another sharpshooter off the bench in Omar Prewitt, who is the second on the team in scoring behind a 39.1% mark from long range. One thing working in Drexel’s favor is that William & Mary’s best interior player, senior Tim Rusthoven, is expected to see at best limited minutes while dealing with a toe injury and the flu. Still, it will ultimately come down to whether or note Drexel’s trio of guards can re-gain their shooting stroke; this contest could go either way.
7:00 PM: Saint Joseph’s (9-4, 0-0 A-10) @ Massachusetts (12-1, 0-0 A-10)
Flying high on a season best 5-game winning streak, the Hawks will begin their conference slate against possibly the best the Atlantic 10 has to offer against the Minutemen. Lacking a real marquee win during their non-conference schedule, St. Joe’s will need to pick up a few of these types of wins against the upper crust of the A-10 to give themselves some ammo for the tournament committee to make their case come March. However, it will be no easy task against a Massachusetts squad ranked 18th in the country that has taken down some solid non-conference competition this year in Clemson, LSU, and New Mexico, to name a few.
The Minutemen are a deep battalion, with 4 players averaging in double figures, but they’re led by guard Chaz Williams. The 5’9″ Williams is the floor general for Massachusetts, not only averaging a team-high 15.5 ppg behind 42.6% shooting from three, but also ranking 2nd in the country with 7.7 assists per game. Williams runs the show on the perimeter, while 6’10” junior Cady Lalanne is the caretaker down low. Lalanne is top-25 nationally in rebounding at 9.8 per game, while also anchoring the defense with a top-30 mark in blocks (2.77 bpg). As well as the Hawks have been playing, I don’t think they’re ready to take down a team of Massachusetts’ caliber, especially in their house.
7:00 PM: Villanova (13-1, 2-0 Big East) @ Seton Hall (10-5, 1-1 Big East) – CBS Sports Network
Back up to #8 in the AP poll after a great week that saw them defeat Butler in overtime and absolutely demolish Providence, the Wildcats hit the open seas of New Jersey to take on the Pirates. So far in their Big East schedule, Seton Hall has needed double overtime to squeak past that Friars team Villanova just chewed up and spit out, while also losing soundly to a formidable Creighton team. Seton Hall also played a weak non-conference schedule (currently sporting one of the lower strength of schedules in the country), so one would expect Villanova to have their way as long as they play to their own capability.
Helping matters for Villanova is that the Pirates will be without leading rebounder Gene Teague, who was hospitalized after a scary fall during a game a week and a half ago. Fortunately, he was diagnosed with just a very bad concussion, but he remains out indefinitely going forward for Seton Hall. A Texas transfer, guard Sterling Gibbs is at the helm of the Pirates offense, averaging a team-high 15.9 ppg, primarily by attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line, as he’s 2nd in the nation in free throws made. Villanova will have to do their best to contain Gibbs while also honoring the quick hands of bench sparkplug Fuquan Edwin, who sits 4th nationally in steals per game. However, Seton Hall doesn’t feature anywhere near the depth of the Wildcats who should escape the Pirates’ cove unharmed.