As we get ready for the Red Storm to get back to Big East play against Villanova, the top team in the country... let’s take a moment.
Let us be gracious to the City of Philadelphia, where fans are happy that the football Eagles have won the Super Bowl and are getting engaged with 40 oz bottles of Olde English, the fine malt liquor, in hand.
I am legitimately verklempt. This is beautiful.
But we have a basketball game to talk about, about a chance for St. John’s to keep the good vibes earned by knocking off Duke on Saturday. The Red Storm travel to Philly to face the #1 Villanova Wildcats, who have been rolling steadily through conference play.
Don’t get us wrong. This is still a longshot, and a loss is not indicative of what this team is still capable in the last month of the regular season.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (11-13 I 0-11 Big East) versus #1 Villanova Wildcats (22-1 I 9-1 Big East)
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA (capacity 20,456)
When: Wednesday, February 7th, 7:00 PM ET
TV: CBS Sports Network; online by clicking here.
Audio: 570 AM WNYM; TuneIn Radio
Last Meeting: St. John’s hung close on January 7th at Madison Square Garden, but lost at home to ‘Nova, 78-71.
The one change from a month ago for Jay Wright’s Villanova Wildcats is that guard Phil Booth is out after fracturing a bone in his right hand. Curiously, he is the third Villanova player to break a bone in their hand; freshman guard Collin Gillespie and freshman wing Jermaine Samuels have done so as well.
Gillespie, who did not play against St. John’s, is back and in the rotation after missing time. He has been decent as a backup guard, but the Wildcats continue to lean on their starting five.
Villanova’s starting squad now includes Donte DiVincenzo, who VU Hoops aptly called the “Storm Chaser”. Against St. John’s in his over four games stretching back to last season, DiVincenzo has averaged 22.5 points, made seven field goals in each game, and has shot 16/24 from beyond the three-point line. Basically, he’s been an All-American against the Red Storm.
Of course, there are the above-the-fold starters to worry about as well — Jalen Brunson, the incredibly efficient scoring and passing machine, and Mikal Bridges, the slick forward who can defend at a high level. And Eric Paschall is a matchup problem who has shot 55%.
Freshman big man Omari Spellman is finding his groove, too, hitting 46% of his three-point shots in conference play and 54% of his twos, while grabbing nearly 20% of opponent’s misses. Defending him will be a challenge — similar, perhaps to defending Marvin Bagley III of Duke, who scored 19 against St. John’s with his versatile game. In fact, Spellman has been most relatively weak at the rim, where he connects on 53% of his shots on the season.
Yes, Villanova is Villanova, with an offense that is hard to stop, and a defense that has its issues, but has been enough to get them 22 wins.
Of note, of course, is that on the way to their last four wins, the Wildcats have given up over 1 point per possession (1.04 to Providence, 1.18 to Marquette, 1.16 to Creighton and 1.11 to Seton Hall).
If the Johnnies can get stops and attack the basket with the confidence they had against Duke, who knows? Stranger things have happened... last Saturday.
Keys to the Game
Defend the three. We say this almost every game, because the Johnnies’ defense leaves wide open gaps on the perimeter. Strong pressure defense will help — but so will good closeouts, recognition of gaps, and defending well enough to not need help from teammates.
Score efficiently. St. John’s knows they can turn to Shamorie Ponds to get points, but that is a defensible game plan — and the Johnnies can be more efficient if they share the ball to their other scorers. But can Justin Simon convert in transition? Can Marvin Clark II and Bashir Ahmed hit open shots? Can Bryan Trimble Jr. add to the attack? He has shot 1/9 over the last three games.
Force chaos. Villanova is the fifth-best team at not turning the ball over, nationally. St. John’s is the fourth best at forcing turnovers, and snatched the ball from Duke players repeatedly. The Red Storm need a sloppy game with loose balls and broken plays to disrupt the Wildcats (and keep them from executing like it’s practice). This is the key way to do it, but hopefully not with fouls committed.
Don’t get beasted on the boards. Tariq Owens and Clark (and possibly Kassoum Yakwe) need to slow down Spellman and Paschall on the glass on both ends to maintain a balance in shots taken.
I see a good effort, but not a win. Villanova is much better than Duke. 81-69, Wildcats.