There are rivalries like the Iron Bowl in football between Auburn and Alabama, but there is nothing in college sports quite like the college basketball “Holy War” between Catholic universities four miles apart on Route 30 in Philadelphia featuring Villanova and St. Joseph’s.
This time, Villanova, the No. 14-ranked team in the country, made the trip down Lancaster Avenue to beat St. Joseph’s, 98-68, and like in most games between the schools, there was not much to choose for at least a half anyway. Villanova extended a 39-35 lead into a 56-38 lead early in the second half and by then the game was over. Villanova might be the most surprising 9-0 team in America, with two wins over top 25 teams in Kansas and Iowa and now notching a scalp of one of the preseason favorites in the watered-down Atlantic 10.
“For me, growing up in Philadelphia, it’s a real honor to be part of this game,” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright, who could afford to be magnanimous because he can go seven deep with a lineup that had seven players score in double figures in the win over Iowa. The 30-point final margin was the largest in the long history of this series.
The Wildcats hope to parlay that depth into a deep tournament run despite the fact that they have no true post players, just a couple of hard-working fours in James Bell, a 6-foot-6 senior, and Jay Vaughn Pinkston, a 6-foot-7 junior, who are both averaging a team-high 16.6 points.
The new Big East, of which Villanova continues to be a part of, might not be the same without the ACC defects in Pittsburgh and Syracuse, but all that means is an easier path for the Wildcats once they reach that conference’s postseason tournament in Madison Square Garden.
Once in the Big Dance, the kind of intensity this team has faced in games like Kansas, Iowa and the Holy War will make it a tough out in your office pool several months from now.