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"All I can think about is Connecticut making that run and winning the National Championship. We're just going to go out and give it our all and try to make that run." - Jamal Branch
Remember, Big East play started for St. John's with a game against Villanova, a 98-86 overtime loss in the Philadelphia area. You remember, the offensive shootout where D'Angelo Harrison scored 36 but couldn't get the ball late?
Will the second season start with St. John's (16-14, 8-10) beating Villanova in the second round of the Big East Tournament? Can the Johnnies spark a defensive-minded run in the Tourney?
The Johnnies and Wildcats meet under different circumstances; Villanova is on the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble, while St. John's needs a flurry of March victories - probably a trip to the Big East final - to be considered for at-large consideration in the great tournament.
| Tip Off: 7:00 PM Eastern
Vs. Villanova Wildcats
(19-12, 10-8 Big East; coach, Jay Wright)
Madison Square Garden (capacity: 19,979)
TV: ESPN | ESPN3 | Radio: Bloomberg 1130
Announcers: Sean McDonough, Bill Raftery, Jay Bilas
Stranger things have happened, and the Red Storm have ripped off some runs in their history, and the team put in an inspired performance against Marquette in the Big East regular season finale, pushing the league co-champions to overtime despite missing Sir`Dominic Pointer and D`Angelo Harrison.
Villanova has some very sharp wins over the top of the Big East (Marquette, Georgetown, and Louisville all fell at Villanova's Garden, the Wells Fargo Center) at home, a developing squad, and the knowledge that they beat St. John's in the past.
Sampson is far more aggressive and confident now. And the defense might be able to better players like Pinkston who draw fouls.
Lavin sees that this is a winnable game. "We play at Madison Square Garden," he said. "It's our home court and if you look at the fact that we lost in overtime to Villanove at their place when they shot 42 free throws, if we can neutralize that free throw advantage, we feel we're right there."
A look at each team's strengths and weaknesses in Big East play - and what the Johnnies need to do to pull off the win.
VU Hoops preview: 2013 Big East Tournament: Villanova vs. St. John's Preview
[To be determined]
From the team capsules and tempo-free look at the Big East
(you should read the Big East Tournament Preview/ Team Capsules and get prepared. I have excerpted the St. John's and Villanova portions.)
What they do well:
Block shots. With Chris Obekpa, Sir`Dominic Pointer, and JaKarr Sampson, the Johnnies present an imposing front line that can alter shots and make opponents uncomfortable, blocking just under 11% of opponents' two-pointers.
Win the turnover battle. The Red Storm have managed to turn the ball on 17% of their possessions while forcing turnovers on almost 23% of opponent possessions.
What they do poorly:
Shoot/ shot selection. The Red Storm are the league's worst at shooting from beyond the arc (25%) and from the free throw line (64.5%). The team also shoots a league-low 25% of their shots from beyond the arc yet are 12th in the league at drawing fouls. That's a toxic combination for scoring hopes - especially against packed-in zones. The Storm also shoot 45% inside the arc, taking an inordinate number of shots in the midrange - a/k/a "the least efficient shot in the game."
Rebound the offensive end. The Johnnies choose to stay off of the offensive glass, preferring to get back on defense; but on a team that struggles to score, grabbing only 30% of that many misses means there are a lot of second chance opportunities going to waste.
Trend: Down. With personnel issues (leading scorer D`Angelo Harrison is off the squad for conduct detrimental to the team), the Red Storm's scoring has declined from what was already a weak attack to South Florida territory. The Red Storm have talent but have lost four straight.
Odds of winning Big East Tournament: 75/1
What they do well:
Defend inside. The Wildcats allow 42% shooting inside the arc - only Louisville has been better in Big East play. The Wildcats have also been good at funneling opponents into spaces where they will miss shots; there aren't a lot of blocked shots here, just solid defense from the frontline of Mouphtaou Yarou and Daniel Ochefu and the wing James Bell.
Create shots. Despite shooting around the league median on two-pointers (46%) and three-pointers (34%), Jay Wright's team rides aggressiveness to draw fouls at a rate (FTR: 52%) seven percentage points higher than the next-best team. They hit 71% of their free throws when they get to the line. JayVaughn Pinkston alone draws almost 8 free throw attempts per game in Big East play; Darrun Hilliard and Ryan Arcidiacono add to the parade to the line.
What they do poorly:
Turnovers. Despite opponents not forcing an inordinate number of steals, the Wildcats' turnover rate is second-worst in the league at 22%.
Fouling. The Wildcats continue to bump and nudge and draw the attention of referee whistles, fouling opponents at a rate of 39.5% (free throws attempted to field goals attempted).
Trend: Inconsistent. The offense is improving, but mixing wins over Georgetown and Marquette with a loss to Seton Hall is the definition of inconsistent.
Odds of winning Big East Tournament: 25/1
Keys to the Game
Contain the bombing.
The new style
Prediction: Villanova is sloppy but St. John's needs more weapons to topple them. 68-60, Wildcats.