The Red Storm, winners of six straight and looking like one of the best teams in the Big East, get a chance to prove their true mettle against the Villanova Wildcats today at 1:30 in Philadelphia.
One of the best chances for St. John's to earn another resume-building win to ensure their inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, the Red Storm will have to ride into Philly with some personnel changes.
Scouting St. John's
St. John's (18-9, 8-6) are on a six-game winning streak. And the team is focused. "we have the same mindset as always of playing each game like a championship," Phil Greene IV said. "We just got to be ready and prepared and play every game like it's our last."
But center Chris Obekpa, who scored four points and had three blocks against Villanova in the first meeting, has been sidelined with an ankle injury sustained in practice before the Butler game.
Initially scheduled to miss 10-14 days, Obekpa has been medically cleared.
"The doctors and trainers are pleased with the progress Chris has made," Lavin said. But Lavin will be conservative with his injury, with the postseason coming in just three weeks.
Obekpa will be a game time decision. The Nigerian center has come on offensively of late, creating a real interior option and a recipient of passes from Rysheed Jordan; his quick leaping has allowed him to finish at the rim.
Meanwhile, Orlando Sanchez will miss this game due to the birth of his daughter. Sanchez (who is 24) was married last year, and his wife gave birth in Providence, RI. "I will be back with my brothers soon to help our team accomplish our goals of finishing the year strong and making the postseason," Sanchez said through the school.
If both players miss time, the hit to the defense is not as bad as one might think. 'Nova's center, Daniel Ochefu, played 15 minutes in the last game and tends to play a little over 20 minutes per game. Will Villanova go to him to press their size advantage? Or will St. John's be able to match up with three-guard lineups t match the Wildcats' three-guard lineups?
JayVaughn Pinkston is a problem; he got Orlando Sanchez into foul trouble, and at 6'7", 240 pounds and possessed with a dribble game, he's hard to defend with the Johnnies at full strength.
Rysheed Jordan returns home to Philadelphia, and may have over twenty friends and family members at the game. He could be a huge factor, along with JaKarr Sampson's rebounding, God`Gift Achiuwa's size and Sir`Dominic Pointer's defense and versatility.
This game is big for the Red Storm's postseason chances.
"A win in a game against a Top 20 opponent is significant," Lavin said, "because it builds our resume and is an indication that the team is playing at a high level during the home stretch of the basketball season."
Villanova, despite a recent second loss to Creighton and a double overtime win over Providence (the game that kept St. John's fans from watching much of the first half of the Butler win) have only three losses - two to Creighton and one to Syracuse.
The Wildcats' guard-heavy lineup is one of the country's best offense, taking high-percentage shots at the rim and shooting 43% of their attempts from beyond the arc in conference play. They nail 39.5% of those shots; they have the explosiveness that can be hard to guard.
The Johnnies have held opponents to 31% shooting beyond the arc in conference play, best in the league. Jay Wright thinks the team's defensive suge started with their last game against Villanova.
"I think that was their first game of really starting to play well defensively," said Wright. "They've gotten better since then. I think they're playing as well as anyone in the country right now."
Villanova has a team experienced in winning, and a team that wants to top Creighton as the best team in the Big East. Villanova is one game behind in the win column, and won't overlook the Johnnies.
Andrew would have a more positive prediction, but the lack of size and JayVaughn Pinkston will be a lot to overcome. Villanova wins 74-70.
What's your winner/ score prediction?