The St. John’s fanbase has been bouncing between hopeful vibes and worried fretting all season, as the youthful leaders of the team learn what it means to put together a good performance.
Wednesday night against a solid but guard-oriented Marquette team, the coach felt they had a 40 minute performance (despite at least two or three stretches where the ball movement lacked crispness or desire).
Can St. John’s make it two in a row? Can the Johnnies reach .500 in conference play? Can St. John’s bottle that Wednesday effort and take the game to the defending National Champions in their second matchup of the season?
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (11-13, 5-6 Big East) vs #4 Villanova Wildcats (21-2, 8-2 Big East)
What: Big East Conference Game
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
When: Saturday, February 4th, 8:00 PM ET
TV: CBS Sports Network (look it up on your cable system; also available online)
Audio: St. John’s TV All-Access will provide free audio for the contest. You can also use Tune In radio, reachable here. Also live game audio can be found on 570 WNYM.
Twitter: Follow along on Twitter @rumbleSBN
See: 1st game notes, which still hold true.
One aspect of the first game between St. John’s and Villanova that should not be diminished - the Red Storm played a very good defensive game, despite being punished on the defensive glass by Villanova.
And a lot of things went the Red Storm’s way. Kris Jenkins in particular, went 1/10 from the field. Josh Hart, a strong candidate for National Player of the Year, shot 4/13 St. John’s forced 20 turnovers in total - seven from point guard Jalen Brunson.
But St. John’s committed 17 turnovers and shot 32% from outside the arc. And overall, a decent defensive effort didn’t come with enough offense to really challenge in the last five minutes like they had all game.
VIllanova needed 19 points from Donte DiVincenzo to handle the Johnnies - not only was that his career high, he has scored in single digits in the last four contests. Still: the final score was 70-57. And expect the Wildcats to protect the ball more and get a better flow on offense.
Can St. John’s keep the defensive energy going and also activate the offense of Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett, who only combined for 25 points in the first meeting?
Villanova will continue to look to their star guards, Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson to lead the way.
Wildcats to watch
Brunson/ Hart. The two guards will expect to put up more points - and play with fewer errors.
Eric Paschall. The forward off the bench is versatile and can score on many levels in a sloppy game; along with DiVincenzo, they helped Villanova pull out the win in the Garden.
Mikal Bridges. On a team where Kris Jenkins has struggled with his shot over the last four games, Mikal Bridges has filled in the gaps, scoring 15, 20, 15 and eight points in his last four.
Keys to contest
Continue to pressure the ball. Maybe St. John’s can’t force as many turnovers against a Villanova team that likely remembers how badly they played. But the pressure from Malik Ellison, Shamorie Ponds, Marcus Lovett, Tariq Owens and others is necessary. In a straight-up, half court game, the lack of size on the Red Storm will be evident; in a choppy game filled with Villanova turnovers, the Johnnies could create enough chaos to smash the Wildcats’ system.
Explosive scoring from... someone. Wednesday game saw Kassoum Yakwe break out of an extended, season-long slump and put up some points. Yakwe and perhaps forward Darien Williams will have a chance to give the Villanova defense something else to worry about. Which, if it works well, can free up explosive guards Marcus LoVett or Shamorie Ponds to go off for 20+, carrying the Johnnies to victory.
Smart ballhandling. LoVett and Ponds need to do a better job hanging on to the ball - and each player has to make sure to fight to receive every pass.
I think Villanova is very good and will be very motivated. 79-66, WIldcats.
KenPom prediction: 84-65