St. John's is still riding the 15 game losing streak. And while some fans may be looking ahead to two games against DePaul, the ninth-place team, St. John's knows that they won't be favored in any game left this season.
The Johnnies will be looking for any opportunity to snap the streak, and get their heads above water. The next chance St. John's will get is Saturday night, on the road, against the number 1 Villanova Wildcats. Despite the losing culture swirling around St. John's basketball, coach Mullin still loves the attitude and effort.
During Thursday's Big East coaches conference call, Chris Mullin exclaimed, "I think the pros of this team is their attitudes, they are really good kids. Great teammates, hard workers. Their character, work ethic and the way they conduct themselves (is outstanding)."
"Opportunity only comes if you play hard," Mullin continued, "with energy and if your mentally focused on the game-plan. The preparation is important leading up to the game. Then when the game comes you have to just play free."
Hopefully the Johnnies can come out with fire and passion and play freely on Saturday night. If St. John's wins on Saturday, that would be their sixth ever win against the No. 1 team in the land. The last time St. John's knocked off the No.1 team was during the dream 1985 season when they beat Patrick Ewing's Hoyas in Landover, Maryland.
Who: St. John's Red Storm (7-18) vs #1 Villanova Wildcats (21-3)
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
When: Saturday, February 13th, 8:00 PM
TV: CBS Sports Network; Channel finder can be found if you click here
Audio: 570 WMCA
Twitter: Follow @rumbleSBN and @StJohnsBBall for updates
Last Meeting: Villanova finished off St. John's 68-53 behind a second-half surge
Fun Fact: Villanova is the only Augustinian Catholic University in the country.
Villanova enters this contest as the arguably the best basketball team this season. Their three losses have been at the hands of a trio of fantastic basketball teams - to Virginia and Oklahoma were early on this season, and a home loss to Providence that was tight the whole way. Villanova is playing their very best basketball and looks immune to derailing losses. This was best on display in the thrashing DePaul was handed last time Villanova hit the court, in the days after their new top-of-the-nation ranking.
Recently, Jay Wright spoke on preparation for weaker competition like St. John's.
"We had a tough game with (St. John’s) at the Garden," stated Wright. "I really respect what they’re doing. They play hard. They’ve lost a lot of games here but they have never quit. They’ve had some good performances on the road, like at Xavier. We know they can get it going. I think our guys are pretty focused preparing for them."
One player that will give the Johnnies fits all night long is junior guard Josh Hart. This tough wing player is very hardworking, versatile, and can beat teams in many different ways. Hart is currently having a career year averaging about 16 points and 7 rebounds per game. On Thursday, Hart was nominated as one of the midseason candidates for the Naismith Award. Slowing down his scoring from the outside and boxing him out is a must for St. John's.
Another player on the Wildcats that could give Mullin's team trouble is Daniel Ochefu. Last time St. John's squared off with Villanova, Ochefu did not compete due to a concussion. Tonight, Ochefu is back and ready to go against the Johnnies.
Against DePaul on Tuesday, Ochefu made his presence felt on both sides of the court. He contributed 11 points and 4 assists while snatching 6 rebounds and blocking 2 shots. His presence on the floor is a game changer for Villanova. They seem to play their best when he is dominating the paint and kicking the ball out. Going toe-to-toe with slimmer and younger big men like Yankuba Sima and Kassoum Yakwe could be all Villanova needs to win this game.
Keys to Game
Contain Ochefu: One obvious key to this contest is slowing down the heartbeat of this team, Daniel Ochefu. When Villanova visited Madison Square Garden, they looked to be in disarray without their anchor in the center. Saturday's contest will be different in that Ochefu will be back in action sparking the Wildcats on offense and defense. Getting him into to foul trouble or frustrating him early could leave the door open a bit for St. John's.
Played energized basketball: At times it seems this ball club lacks the passion and intensity to win tough games. For example against Georgetown, St. John's wasn't playing aggressively, especially on defense. On multiple occasions the Hoyas would blow by the non-existent perimeter defense of St. John's and draw fouls from defenders. Coming out the gate with aggressiveness and energy is crucial if St. John's is going to upset the Wildcats.
REBOUND: The last time St. John's played Villanova, they were out rebounded 48-35 - without their rock in the middle, Daniel Ochefu. On the other side, Yankuba Sima was also not available and should help secure more boards. This season, St. John's has been out rebounded by an average of 4 per contest. If they can't slow down a rebounding force in Villanova they will have no chance at garnering win number 61 in the Red Storm's long running series versus the Wildcats.
Villanova not only looks like the best team in the Big East, but also the premier team in the nation. This one shouldn't be close, if it turns out to be a tight contest that would be a knock on Villanova. The Wildcats will secure the 113th all-time meeting with ease.
Final Prediction: 85-60 Nova