Tomorrow, the St. John’s Red Storm, winners of one straight after breaking an 11-game losing streak in Big East play, get back to games that matter — starting with the #1 team in the country, the Villanova Wildcats in Philadelphia, assuming they have cleaned up from the post-SuperBowl victory celebrations.
To get a sense of what has changed for the Wildcats, we reached out to our pals at VU Hoops for some intel. And Chris Lane was kind enough to hit us back with answers on Jay Wright’s resident cyborg, the fill-ins for the injured starter, and some players who will play larger roles this time around.
We answered some questions over there, as well, so go give a look. And thanks to Chris and VU Hoops for the time!
RMBL: Now that St. John’s has established themselves as giant-killers for the rest of the season, are you legitimately worried (as much as one should be worried about a basketball game in February for a #1 team) about tomorrow’s game against St. John’s?
VUH: I don’t know that worried is the right word. Anxious maybe? Slightly concerned? St. John’s is not as bad as their record would have you believe, but they just are a volatile unit. They are basically BitCoin.
I think the added confidence from the weekend worries me to a degree. Now the Johnnies know they can beat the best, instead of just hang with the best. The frenetic style they play with has given Villanova some fits in recent years, so there is always the chance of an upset. I wouldn’t bet on it though, and that win over Duke may actually serve to really focus ‘Nova for the game because they will be reminded of that all week in practice.
RMBL: [Don’t worry. Tell Jay Wright’s guys, don’t even game plan or practice! Just come in and play fast and loose! Have fun! It will be just fine! What’s the worst that could happen, right? Also, we are sending some celebratory beers and hard liquor for the starters as congrats for the Eagles!]
VUH: While you’re in the giving mood, send some of that good stuff my way!
RMBL: Villanova lost Phil Booth for some time -- how have the Wildcats adjusted?
VUH: Way better than expected! Things are little shaky on the defensive end without him but 3-0 and a couple of blowouts of Top-4 teams in the conference. We kind of told ourselves that this might be a rocky run here for the next month without him (and we’re not even 2 weeks in to be fair), but the added minutes that Collin Gillespie and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree are getting should pay dividends. And then there is the news that Jermaine Sameuls will be back in practice next week, so it’s all looking good right now.
The big adjustment as I mentioned has been more PT for the freshmen. Gillespie has kept it simple for the most part on offense. He’s making the easy pass and taking open shots and looking like he fits in so far on that end. On defense he’s a big dropoff from Booth as you’d expect, but he hasn’t been a complete liability and for that he deserves some plaudits. DaDa has forced Jay Wright to roll with some ‘bigger’ lineups and at the very least it’s good to experiment. He’s really held his own on the interior - much more than I thought he was capable of - and he’s a fantastic finisher around the rim for a guy his age.
You are going to see a lot of the ‘Cats top lineup though which plugs Donte DiVincenzo in for Phil Booth. They logged A LOT of minutes vs. Seton Hall.
RMBL: Omari Spellman -- wait, he can shoot like that? 6/7 from beyond the arc plus 11 total rebounds? Please explain how Spellman has improved over the year - and in Big East play.
VUH: I’m not sure where the scouting report got lost in translation but I get this a lot from rival fans. Spellman’s greatest offensive asset coming in was that he could face up and hit you with a jumpshot. He’s always needed work on his back-to-the-basket game. I don’t think anyone thought he could pull a Kris Jenkins and go unconscious from deep, but we’re not complaining and when he’s cooking like that and dragging frontcourt players outside Villanova is just impossible to stop on offense.
His biggest improvement has been his assertiveness. Early in the year he took a lot of his shots from in close and struggled a bit - he’s really expanded his game and taken open shots when they come to him. That confidence has driven him to new heights.
RMBL: Why doesn’t Villanova lose? Come on, be a little more sporting!
VUH: It really helps to have a cyborg running the team from the point guard position. Can’t recommend that enough.