St. John’s faces the Big East’s longtime standard-bearer, Villanova, tomorrow night outside of Philadelphia.
Now ranked #24 (#23 in the Coach’s Poll), this game will, rightly or wrongly, speak to the legitimacy of the Johnnies as a true Big East frontrunner this season... in the eyes of some.
This will not be an easy game. Consider the way the Red Storm defeated the Wildcats last season — a bump in a season where Villanova won the national championship. Expect to see a high-level of attention to detail and new wrinkles from the Villanova staff. Chris Mullin’s squad will have to be ready to minimize damage from runs, to counterpunch, to execute ruthlessly.
The Wildcats, unlike the Johnnies past three opponents, are well-versed in the skills and personnel needed to play a five-out style with shooting/ attacking big men. Can the Red Storm defeat a team that matches up so well?
But this is a team that had to fight off a better, but not-yet-top-tier DePaul team at home just a week ago, and took out Providence in a game where neither squad could make shots.
Are they vulnerable enough to fall at home like they did last year?
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (14-1, 1-1 Big East) at Villanova Wildcats (11-4, 2-0 Big East)
Where: Finneran Arena, Villanova, PA (6,500)
When: Tuesday, January 7, 7:00 PM
TV: FS1 | FoxSportsGo
Audio: 970 WNYM AM | TuneIn Radio
Odds: Villanova, -6.5
Last meeting: St. John’s took out a Villanova team missing two regulars by the score of 79-75 — one of four losses in a 36-win season for the eventual NCAA National Champions.
Rankings & School Notes
Last season final KenPom Ranking: 1 | Current KenPom Ranking: 24
School size: 10,983 (6,966 undergraduates)
School is academically known for: Business, law, engineering, nursing
Notable alumni: Jim Croce (musician), Toby Keith (musician, did not graduate), Bradley Cooper (actor, transferred to Georgetown), Bert Jacobs (founder, Life is Good), Andrew Allen (NASA astronaut/ shuttle pilot), Kelly Ayotte (senator), Dr. Jill Biden (for masters), Ed Rendell (governor)
Did you know they won the national championship last year? And lost four players to the NBA Draft?
That’s a lot of production to lose, and it shows, somewhat. With a roster filled with players in new roles, the Wildcats have still won 11 games, but dropped a couple of contests that were surprising to the national pundits against Furman and Pennsylvania.
The Big East’s standard bearers, the super team that would never die, is vulnerable.
Relatively. The Wildcats do a lot well on the court, despite playing a very different roster of players this season. They still shoot a lot of threes on the floor and spread out opponents. They still play a lot of man defense and do a solid job of restricting three-point attempts. While not a dominant rebounding team, they compete well on the glass.
The difference is that some of execution is a notch below the high standard the Wildcats have set. The three-point shooting is slightly less effective, the turnovers have increased a notch on offense, and the team looks like it is laboring to find a good shot with fewer players who can create devastating scoring attempts.
Led by Eric Paschall (#4), who has come a long way from the shot happy Fordham freshman who was a legend in his own mind to a definite first-team Big East player. Paschall, at 6’8” 255, will be a lard cover for the likes of Marvin Clark II. The Villanova forward is fairly quick, able to shoot 37% from deep, and can get to the rim on the drive. When he drives and is cut off, he is less effective as a shooter (and sometimes as a decision-maker).
Dhamir Cosby-Rountree (#21) will be a problem with his rebounding. A lower-usage player, he knows his game is at the rim and will be looking for putbacks and passes from driving players. He’s an excellent shot-blocker and forces steals.
Starting guard Phil Booth (#5) is solid and poised scorer who plays a team game; this year he’s taken on some more possessions for the Wildcats. In the absence of more creative forces, Booth can create mid-range shots and get to the rim on his dribble, drawing fouls. He’s a good passer and a decent defender.
Point guard Collin Gillespie (#2), a sophomore, is stepping into a larger role with last year’s departures. He is still a solid shooter despite increased possessions, more ballhandling/ assisting duties, and drawing more fouls. Though possibly a notch better of a defender than Booth, Gillespie picks up 4 fouls per 40 minutes.
Albany transfer Joe Cremo (#24) has moved from a starring role in NY’s capital to a supporting role at Villanova as a deep shooter. His numbers have dipped precipitously moving from the America East, where he was a solid passer, a post-up threat, a mainstay at the line, and a strong passer as the focal point for the Great Danes*. Cremo is a tough player, though, and could take opportunities in this game if it’s not moving too fast for his game.
Jahvon Quinerly (#0) came in as the top freshman in the Big East, but struggled with getting minutes. The 6’1” guard’s frustration publicly boiled over on Instagram. He’s got talent but is getting his feel with ‘Nova. He’s been a decent passer — but so far, a poor shooter both inside and outside the arc.
The wings are the Villanova fountain of youth. Saddiq Bey (#15), often said by announcers to have an “old man game”, gets heavy minutes in the rotation whether he starts or not. Unlike some of his teammates, the 6’8” wing is decisive in the attack. A low-turnover player, Bey can drive baseline to the rim and has shown some good defensive instincts.
Fellow freshman Cole Swider (#10) is a long forward who has been strong inside the arc, but not as effective on the glass as a 6’9” player likely should be. He has found himself committing fouls in bunches in a few of his extended outings.
Jermaine Samuels (#23) is undersized at 6’7”, but physical. He can be a defensive rebounding x-factor who can block some shots at hit some threes; his career-high 15 points was instrumental in Villanovas win over Temple.
* I admit it. This writer is a three-year Joe Cremo stan. AMA
Keys to the Game
Mistakes make pace. For the Johnnies, getting the ball out of the sure hands of Booth in attacking positions, and into the hands of players more apt to make mistake, will be a key to this defense. If the Johnnies can force turnovers, Justin Simon and Shamorie Ponds can get into space and score on Villanova.
Smart, patient play. Villanova will get the game to slow down and throw wrinkles at St. John’s. Players like Marvin Clark II and Mustapha Heron need to let the game come to them, know that it’s a 40-minute game, need to press the issue and probe, and need to play focused basketball.
Don’t get demolished in the paint. Georgetown earned a lot of second chance touches. Villanova will be a problem on the glass, even against LJ Figueroa and Sedee Keita up front. The Johnnies need to continue to fight for rebounds, because every defensive rebound counts in keeping Villanova from getting offensive flow.
I think St. John’s can win at Villanova again. Shamorie Ponds was hard for Villanova to contain, and will be harder with this set of guards. I wanted to say I think they will lose because Eric Paschall goes off, and Villanova’s well-coached & solidly talented. But then again, St. John’s has a lot of guard power, and Villanova’s scoring/ defensive prowess has lulls.
St. John’s wins 78-74.