St. John’s, now with a road victory and a season sweep over a Big East competitor, is gearing up to face the league’s most accomplished program over the last 10 years.
In the Garden.
On a Tuesday night.
This kind of big-game vibe is a chance for the Johnnies to show that, when at their best, they can compete with anyone. The game is a chance to lock down another very good one, the kind that makes postseason hopes a reality. But the Wildcats are veterans with young, emerging talent, and a win will be hard to come by — even at home.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (13-8, 2-6 Big East) vs. #8/#11 Villanova (16-3, 6-1 Big East)
When: Tuesday, January 28th, 6:30 PM ET
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
TV: FS1 | FoxSportsGo
Audio: St. John’s website provides free audio for the game. The stream can be found by clicking here.
Tickets: Tickets are available for $40 and up, if you’re leaving work and want to catch the game live.
Last Season in MSG: St. John’s defeated the Wildcats by six in the Garden last season, getting to the line often and bringing the Wildcats into a low-scoring muck. The Johnnies were down by as much as 19 points after a poor first half.
Last Big East game:
St. John’s rode hot shooting from LJ Figueroa to take out the Blue Demons in Chicago.
Despite some foul trouble, Villanova held off Providence, 64-60, in the Friars’ Dunkin Donuts Center.
Jay Wright’s Wildcats are 6-1 in conference, with three excellent defensive performances in a row under their belt. The Wildcats were taken to overtime by DePaul at home before that, and perhaps, are defensively figuring things out... or getting every team’s best effort.
Villanova’s three losses have been to very good teams, all which have been ranked at points this season: Ohio State, Baylor and Marquette.
The Wildcats hew to their style: spread the floor, shoot three-pointers. They have added a bit of height in recent classes, but the formula remains the same. The Wildcats take 46% of their shots from distance and connect on 35% on the season. In league play, they are only hitting 32% from deep. All those threes — and protecting the ball well enough to be second in the league in turnovers committed — give the Wildcats a chance to win on offense.
Defensively, they rebound well, do not get called for fouls (our friend Jaden would tell you that they get a favorable whistle). Teams can score on them inside the arc and in transition on a good day for stretches, and that has to be the Johnnies’ hope; they tend to make corrections.
Three-year started Collin Gillespie has led the team, improving his game from “crafty” to star. His ballhandling and passing have elevated now that he is the lead guard, though freshman point guard Justin Moore has slotted in nicely. The least heralded of the recruiting class, he was the one who actually had passing/ ballhandling skills on a team that lost that skill in Phil Booth.
Saadiq Bey has kept his development going as a slim wing. The 6’8” player won’t turn the ball over, but he works well within the offense and shoots over 45% from deep. Cole Swider, who is 6’9” but plays like a guard, is even more three-oriented, Swider fouls a bit, but scores inside the arc and outside the arc.
Freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, a McDonald’s All-American, has stepped in and put up numbers, especially on the glass at both ends. He can step out and hit the three,
Forwards Jermaine Samuels and Brandon Slater provide defense and, more in the case of Samuels, the ability to step up offensively when called upon.
Villanova tends to play eight, while others — like onetime St. John’s recruit Bryan Antoine — wait their turn on the bench.
Keys to the Game
Reslilency. If the Johnnies are able to sniff a win, it will be because of persistence. Villanova is experienced and will switch things up to make a run; St. John’s has to be poised and ready to give the home crowd something to be partisan about.
Star performances. Two of LJ Figueroa, Mustapha Heron and Rasheem Dunn have to put up big (but efficient) numbers. Even in a low-scoring game, these three still have to create and get buckets.
Defend! The Red Storm need to defend for long stretches without fouling. Villanova will feast if they receive trips through the free throw line, and the way the Johnnies will get to run will be by getting stops and steals.
Villanova wins, 72-68.