As if the NCAA tournament bubble didn't provide enough pressure, St. Joseph's will host a defense that thrives off of it this weekend. Virginia Commonwealth, who brings its high-pressure "havoc" defense to Hagan Arena for the first time Saturday at 8 p.m., leads the country in steals per game (11.8) and turnover margin (7.2). "I'm infatuated with styles," said St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli. "If you call it the way it is, Syracuse plays zone, and then everyone else in the country does the same thing. But, here, you have a style that's completely unique to college basketball." VCU, led by coach Shaka Smart, presses after every score and has led the NCAA in steals four years running. Martelli said the up-tempo style is impossible to emulate in practice, so he said his team would have to prepare mentally. The challenge comes at the tail end of a critical Atlantic 10 week for St. Joseph's (15-7, 5-3 A-10), who defeated then-No. 21 UMass on Monday before falling to No. 13 St. Louis on Wednesday. "We're moving in the right direction even if [St. Louis] was a step in the wrong direction," said leading scorer Langston Galloway (16.2 points per game). VCU (19-4, 7-1 A-10) has won six straight since losing at George Washington on Jan. 14. The Rams, who reached the Final Four in 2011, lost to the Hawks at the Palestra in 1982, beat them one week later, then did not play them again until last year, when they joined the A-10 and beat St. Joe's twice. Smart, who many speculated might jump to a larger program, signed an eight-year extension in 2011. Martelli said he didn't know Smart very well but offered some thoughts as to why he stayed. "I think the program to emulate at our level is Gonzaga," Martelli said. "So maybe his vision is to build that. And [VCU] does have 31,000 students, in a tough area of the country. He's in ACC country. My guess is he's going to build that to rival an ACC program." City Six Weekend Saturday James Madison (8-15, 3-6 Colonial Athletic Conference) at Drexel (12-10, 4-5), 2 p.m. Being named CAA player of the week for the third time this season didn't slow down point guard Frantz Massenat on Monday. He scored 15 points that night in the Dragons' 61-50 victory over UNC-Wilmington. St. Louis (21-2, 8-0 Atlantic-10) at La Salle (12-10, 4-4) 5 p.m., ESPN 2 Like St. Joseph's, who they will play Feb. 15, the Explorers are in the midst of a crucial A-10 stretch. After falling by 12 to UMass on Wednesday, La Salle will look to rebound at home against the defending A-10 champion Billikens, who have not lost a conference game since March. Columbia (13-8, 2-2 Ivy*) at Penn (4-13, 1-2* Ivy League), 7 p.m. The struggling Quakers return home after last weekend's losses at Harvard and Dartmouth, the first time Penn was swept on the Ivy's northern New England swing since the 1988 season. Sunday Temple (6-15, 1-8 American Athletic Conference) at Houston (11-12, 3-7), 8 p.m., ESPNEWS After losing big to SMU on Thursday, the Owls will look to salvage their Texas trip against the Cougars, who have lost seven of their last eight. Houston has won just twice since shocking UConn on New Year's Eve.
Hawks face tall order against VCU
Philly.com | Feb 8