St. John's currently has the longest losing streak in the nation at 16-games in a row and they haven't notched a win in the Big East Conference, but it hasn't been all negative for Chris Mullin and company.
The Johnnies went on the road against the number one team in the country, battled for 40 minutes and only lost by 10 points (73-63) to a Wildcats squad that has much more experience and talent. Mullin's unit actually had the lead at the under 12 media timeout in the first half and they trailed by just one point at the break before Daniel Ochefu took over.
But despite 19 Red Storm turnovers and limited production on the glass, the game was never completely out of reach. The Johnnies were not embarrassed, like their dismal defensive performance at Georgetown, and they competed with energy for 40 full minutes.
With their best chance to earn their first conference victory on Wednesday at home against DePaul, Saturday's performance was another step in the right direction.
Amar Alibegovic had a big night
Alibegovic came off the bench on Saturday night to play 34 critical minutes, giving the Red Storm yet another marvelous performance against a high-quality opponent. Back in mid-December, the sophomore forward scored a then career high 15-points while adding nine rebounds and three assists in the Johnnies biggest win of the season versus Syracuse.
At the Wells Fargo Center, Alibegovic topped that as he scored 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting (four threes), grabbed six rebounds, dished out four assists and added a steal. While he did look out of control at times in transition and needs to improve his awareness on the court, the Italy native was active on the glass and has proven that he can knock down big shots from the perimeter.
Alibegovic is now averaging 5.3 points per game this season and has scored 26 points combined in two games versus the Wildcats.
Kassoum Yakwe and Malik Ellison showed flashes of excellence
When Yankuba Sima broke his hand in the third Big East game versus Xavier, Yakwe was thrust into the starting lineup. The 6'7" forward has not looked back as he has been remarkable the last few games, but showed particularly great energy against Villanova.
Yakwe finished with eight points, five rebounds and one terrific block while his effort was notable in the interior. The Mali native will have to add strength in the offseason (Ochefu bullied him at points), but it's evident that his offensive game is developing. He even stepped out to shoot a mid-range jump shot.
Meanwhile, Ellison's size, attacking mentality and ball handling skills were a huge positive on Saturday night. The freshman finished with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting and added five assists to three turnovers. Ellison had a big time And-1 that cut the Wildcats lead to one right before the half and his ability to beat the Villanova guards into the lane was key.
Even though he has to work on the consistency of his jump shot, this outing proved that Ellison can be a huge part of the team's future.
Federico Mussini is lacking confidence
Mussini has the capability to get white hot from the perimeter rather quickly, but the Italian point guard has lost his confidence as of late. Mussini can't seem to get his shot off from the perimeter and is rushing and aiming his jumper instead of setting his feet. He played just 13 minutes on Saturday and scored only two points on 0-of-4 shooting along with a turnover.
His ball handling was weak and he just seemed to be out-classed by Ryan Arcidiacono and Jalen Brunson. The Johnnies will need him to put on strength during the offseason and Mussini should have an easier time when he settles into the shooting guard position next year.