Winners of four straight games and seven of their last eight, the St. John's Red Storm are arguably the hottest team in the Big East at this moment. But the Villanova Wildcats, who are currently riding an 11-game winning streak in conference play, may have something to say about that.
As the Big East Tournament sits just under one week away, something has got to give for one of these two teams heading into postseason play. Can the Red Storm continue their hot streak and improve their NCAA Tournament seeding with a huge win at Villanova tomorrow?
How to Watch/Listen
The game will tip-off at 2 P.M. on FOX with Gus Johnson and Jim Jackson calling the action. The radio broadcast with John Minko and Brandon Tierney can be heard on 98.7 WEPN-FM.
St. John's is currently a whopping 12-point underdog tomorrow.
Scouting St. John's
As mentioned earlier, the Red Storm have won seven of their last eight games and are now rolling with a 21-9 overall record. Their 10-7 record in the Big East has them in fifth place in the conference at the moment, and with a victory tomorrow coupled with a little help, they can finish as high as third place in the conference.
The Red Storm appear to be in very good position for their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2011, as they are projected by many as an eight or nine-seed in the tournament at the moment, however a win over the fourth-ranked Wildcats would only improve their tournament standing.
The Johnnies have used a combination of talented guard play and hot shooting to get themselves in this position, as they rank second in the conference in 3-point shooting, and are third in the conference with just under 72 points per game. D`Angelo Harrison is their leading scorer with just under 18 points per game, ranking second in the Big East.
Harrison is having easily the best shooting season of his illustrious St. John's career, as the senior is shooting 42% from the field including 38% from 3-point range, each of which are sizable jumps from his first three seasons.
Aside from Harrison, Rysheed Jordan, Sir`Dominic Pointer, and Phil Greene IV all add right around 13 to 14 points per game this season. Pointer has made an exceptional case for Big East Player of the Year over the past few weeks, as he ranks third on the team in scoring at the moment, leads the team in rebounding and assists, and ranks second on the team in blocks.
Arguably the best all-around player in the conference, whether or not Pointer takes home any hardware at the end of the season remains to be seen, but he has been an integral part to the Red Storm's success this season.
Jordan and Greene have each stepped up their play as well with Steve Lavin using a more limited lineup for much of the season. Jordan scored 15 points over the weekend against Georgetown, and then followed that up with a 23-point performance on Wednesday night at Marquette, including 5-9 shooting from 3-point range.
Greene scored only 11 against the Golden Eagles on Wednesday night, but he did add 3-7 shooting from downtown as well, as the Red Storm hit 12 3-pointers as a team in their 67-51 victory.
Jamal Branch missed Wednesday's game, however he believes that his groin injury is not serious and should not hold him back going forward. That being said, at this moment his status is still up in the air for tomorrow afternoon. If Branch cannot go, it will be interesting to see what Lavin does with his lineup, as on Wednesday night he went with just a six-man rotation with Amar Alibegovic playing only eight minutes.
Four of the five Red Storm starters played the full 40 minutes in that game, but against a deep Villanova team that strategy may not be the best one.
The Wildcats have won 11 straight games and currently are ranked as the fourth-best team in the nation with a 28-2 overall record. Their 15-2 record in the Big East easily gives them the best record in the conference, and they have already clinched the number one seed in next week's Big East Tournament, where they will play the winner of the 8-9 game in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
It appears that Villanova is essentially playing for either a one or two-seed at this point, and a loss to St. John's at home would deal a major blow to their hopes of securing a one-seed.
Another Big East Player of the Year candidate in Darrun Hilliard leads the way for the Wildcats with just over 14 points per game, however they feature an incredibly balanced attack, with six players averaging somewhere between nine and 14 points per game.
Although Hilliard struggled from the field in his last outing against Creighton, shooting just 2-10 and 0-4 from downtown, he had one of his better games of the season against the Johnnies in a 90-72 win on January 6, scoring 21 points.
Daniel Ochefu paces Villanova on the boards with just under nine rebounds per game, and he absolutely dominated St. John's in their last meeting, grabbing 13 rebounds while adding 13 points and dishing out a season-high four assists.
JayVaughn Pinkston is not very far behind Ochefu with right around six rebounds per game, however he has taken a step back this year in both his rebounding and scoring numbers from last season. Nonetheless the Red Storm and their weak frontcourt should still be wary of him tomorrow.
Ryan Arcidiacono plays the most minutes per game for the Wildcats, and he ranks second on the team with right around 11 points per game.
A knockdown shooter who hits 38% of his shots from 3-point range, Arcidiacono has scored in double-figures in six of his last seven games, including a 23-point output in his last game against Creighton on Wednesday.
Speaking to their extreme depth this season, Villanova plays eight players 15-plus minutes per game, and only has one player (Arcidiacono) who averages over 30 minutes a night. A stark contrast from the Red Storm, who essentially use a six-man rotation, this certainly came into play in the last meeting between these two.
St. John's was able to hang with Villanova for about 30 minutes in that one, and even held a one-point lead at the half, however the Wildcats depth was too much and they were able to pull away late.
St. John's Keys to the Game
In what is basically a win-win situation for the Red Storm, what will they have to do to score a road victory over the Wildcats?
Keep the hot shooting going. In each of the four games in their current winning streak, St. John's has shot at least 39% from the field as a team. They've also hit 20 of their last 40 shots from 3-point range in their last two games, including 12-24 shooting in Wednesday's win over Marquette.
In the last game that Villanova lost on January 19th against Georgetown, the Hoyas hit 50% of their 3's and shot a ridiculous 51% from the field as a team. St. John's will clearly be outnumbered in the paint tomorrow, which means that they will need to rely on the shooting of their guards to carry them towards an upset tomorrow.
Contain Ochefu and Hilliard. In the first meeting between these two, Villanova out-rebounded St. John's 41-21, with Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston combining for 19 rebounds and nearly grabbing more boards than the entire Red Storm team combined.
Sir`Dominic Pointer pulled in just one rebound, while Chris Obekpa grabbed just five, and if those two put in similar performances tomorrow the Red Storm will have no shot. They'll need huge performances from Pointer and Obekpa to keep things close on the boards, and we'll see if Amar Alibegovic gets any play tomorrow as well.
Stay out of foul trouble. Sir`Dominic Pointer played just 23 minutes in the January 6th meeting between these two, picking up three fouls in a span of 1:42 and fouling out with just under eight minutes remaining. If the Red Storm decide to go with a five or six-man rotation in this one, silly fouls early could absolutely kill them.
Last weekend against Georgetown, D`Angelo Harrison picked up two fouls within the game's first 30 seconds and was never able to get himself going in that one. If any of the five Red Storm starters get into foul trouble tomorrow, they'll be forced to use their weak bench against a very strong Villanova frontcourt.
The Bottom Line
When speaking about tomorrow's game on Wednesday night, D`Angelo Harrison gave a simple, confident assessment. "I'm looking forward to it," he said, "we've never beat them, and we'd rather get it out of the way now than in the championship of the Big East Tournament."
The Red Storm seniors have never beaten Villanova so far in their collegiate careers, and what a time it would be to pick up their first victory over the Wildcats in their final regular season game at St. John's. But can the Johnnies pull off the massive upset and improve their already stellar NCAA Tournament resume?
St. John's hangs tough with the Wildcats the entire game but cannot close late and falls 76-73.
What's your score prediction?