Pick Villanova -13 over La Salle for your NCAA Basketball Picks

Willie Bee

Sunday, December 15, 2013 2:29 PM GMT

Jay Wright and the Villanova Wildcats look to extend two unbeaten records on Sunday when they host the La Salle Explorers in a Big 5 battle.

Villanova comes in with a 9-0 mark on the young season, good enough to sit No. 10 in the latest AP Poll and four rungs lower in the coaches rankings.  The Wildcats are also off to a 2-0 start in Big 5 action, that portion of their schedule wrapping up in about six weeks with a visit to the Temple Owls.  The 2010-11 campaign was the last time 'Nova won the Philadelphia series, completing a perfect 4-0 mark for the fourth time in seven seasons.

Dr. John Giannini brings La Salle into the matchup off to a bit of a slow start with a 5-4 record, but looking to extend the current win streak to three.  This is the first Big 5 contest for the Explorers who shared co-champion status with Temple in the series last season.

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Betting Information & Series History

The official opening line for the game was 'Nova -13.5, and that spread has dropped a half since it came out. As is so often the case this early in the season, the books are dragging their feet getting a total out, so bettors will need to keep an eye on SBR's live college basketball odds.

La Salle and Villanova first squared off in 1912, some 43 years before the official formation of the Big 5. The Wildcats have a 35-27 advantage vs. the Explorers, and 5-4 edge at The Pavilion. Each of the last two meetings have gone into overtime.

The schools met on La Salle's floor at the Gola Arena last year, 100 years to the day after their first clash. Rallying from 11 down to force OT, the Explorers posted a 77-74 victory as 3.5 point favorites, and 'over' bettors needed the extra five minutes of play to cash their tickets, only the second time in seven meetings that the scoreboard hurdle was breached.

Explorers Out To Turn Around Slow Start

La Salle was expected to contend for the Atlantic 10 title and be in the running for a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance, but the Explorers have failed to live up to that billing so far. They dropped four of their first seven, including two at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands prior to Thanksgiving, and didn't pick up their first cover until a little more than a week ago with a win at Madison Square Garden vs. Stony Brook as part of the Holiday Festival.

Expectations were high after La Salle advanced to the Sweet 16 last March as a 13-seed, and returned five of the top six scorers from a team that won 24 games. One reason for the slow start has been the inability to find the net with any consistency; the Explorers rank near the bottom third of the country in scoring (71.6 ppg), and 316th out of 351 Div-I teams in field goal conversion (40.4%).

Tyreek Duren has managed to play all nine games despite a foot injury, but has not been up to the level he was expected to play at. Duren is hitting on under 38% of his field goal attempts, and 22% from 3-point range where the senior has sunk just one of his last 13 tries.

Pinkston, Bell Leading Way For 'Nova

A 40/1 shot to win it all on the NCAA futures odds before the season, and 5/1 pick in the newly-aligned Big East, Villanova is looking every bit a contender up to now as one of only 14 remaining unbeaten squads entering play on Saturday. Bettors have certainly enjoyed action on 'Nova who has beaten the spread in six of seven lined games, ranking the Wildcats among the best with an early 4.9 unit return.

Four of the five leading scorers from 2012-13 are back, and junior JayVaughn Pinkston is at the top of the list again with a 17.8 PPG clip. Just behind him is senior James Bell (17.6), and that pair also adds 12.6 rebounds per game between them.

Like La Salle, Villanova is hitting the hardwood for the first time in eight days after whipping St. Joseph's 98-68 on the road last Saturday as 4.5 point chalk. And the Wildcats, again like the Explorers, aren't a good-shooting squad from beyond the arc.  But they're certainly doing the other things well enough to be my free college basketball pick in this matchup.

College Basketball Pick: Villanova -13 at Bet365