Coming off of a non-conference finale that saw St. John’s cruise — in the positive and negative senses of the word — to a win over Florida State, the Red Storm record looks stunning at 11-1, but the competition was... not the best. The non-conference schedule, per KenPom, is ranked 330 out of 351 teams covered.
Villanova, and the rest of the conference schedule, will be a much stiffer test. But despite the schedule, with struggling teams like Merrimack and Syracuse, the Red Storm had a chance to experiment with what will likely be a fairly unorthodox approach to winning high-level games.
Can the Johnnies, who don’t shoot threes, and when they shoot them, don’t shoot well, muster enough runouts and chaos to be a top-half Big East team? The talent is there. But Villanova is hungry to right their record after a challenging run of games — and their own unorthodox style.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (11-1, 1-0 Big East) at Villanova Wildcats (6-5, 0-0 Big East)
When: Wednesday, December 21, 2022, 6:30 PM
Where: Finneran Pavilion, Villanova, PA
Odds: Villanova, -3.5
History: Tomorrow’s game will be the 128th meeting between the teams, the most-frequently played opponent for the Red Storm.
Since the Great Reformation of the Big East, there has been nothing more constant than Villanova — as steady as death and taxes in terms of basketball dominance. Perhaps bored with dominating on the college level, former coach Jay Wright stepped away passing the keys to the Wildcat kingdom to former assistant Kyle Neptune, who had enjoyed a solid season at Fordham the year before.
It's easy to say have things have not gone to plan for Villanova.
The team is 6-5, with losses to Temple and Portland on the road. But underlying the record are the facts that:
- the schedule has been difficult,
- there has been a lot of change in the back court,
- and that Villanova style depends very heavily on being able to take and make three-pointers, while other teams miss threes.
The taking of threes has gone well. The making has had struggles.
Villanova takes more than half of their shots from outside of the arc, playing a now-familiar five-out style, generally. They like to play slow and deliberate, possess the ball, and find shots on the perimeter. None of the regulars are afraid to shoot an open three.
But three of those regulars are shooting under 30%. Not great.
Defensively, Villanova has been much more permissive than last season's version which found itself playing in the Final Four, allowing 51% shooting inside the arc and 36% shooting from deep. As usual, they don't have the size or interior presence to block shots, but this season they are also allowing three-point shooters to get clean looks. Or perhaps the shooters are a mix of “focused” and “lucky”.
Still, Villanova has shot over 33% from beyond the arc in their last four games and look to be finding some kind of rhythm. Star freshman Cam Whitmore has joined the on-court roster; in his four games the Wildcats have four wins, starting wit a W against a very good Oklahoma team. While Villanova really starts with how well Caleb Daniels can handle pressure at the point, the 6'7" Cam Whitmore is clearly a game changer for the Wildcats. He's a high-level athlete with a pro future.
Point guard Caleb Daniels has stepped from a reserve role last year to a major playmaking and shooting role. He's been solid, providing some supplemental deep rebounding, some assists, and shooting over 50% inside the arc. He is willing and able to pull up for a mid-range jumper or get to the rim.
Daniels is joined by Chris Arcidiacano, following in his older brother's footsteps. The younger Arcidiacono, is a less eager shooter, and takes almost all of his shots from beyond the arc; he has take eight attempts inside the arc and 31 from deep. Guards Mark Armstrong and Jordan Longino also get some time in the back court. Both will take shots inside the arc and both look to be finding their range on their jump shots. Armstrong, who has started the last four games, won a Big East Freshman of the Week award recently.
Up front, Cam Whitmore is joined by tall Brandon Slater, who plays more as a 6'8 wing than a true forward, taking most of the shots from deep. He has been a better rebounder of this season than past years, but still not one would one would expect from a 6'8 player. He does shoot 91% from the free throw line.
Eric Dixon is the stalwart inside but he, too, also tends to look for the perimeter shot and play on the outside. He has been an incredibly consistent scoring presence this season, reaching double figures in every one of their 11 games. Dixon is a threat to draw fouls in the paint.
Keys to the Game
Disruptive backcourt play. The Red Storm need to find a way to make the Wildcats shoot awkward three pointers instead of stepping into clean, pretty threes that everyone knows will fall. That is much easier said than done, but the Johnnies cannot play a game where they are trading threes for two pointers. There are not enough steals from Posh Alexander and Andre Curbelo to make up for, say, 15 made three-pointers.
Up the game pace. Villanova wants to play a controlled game and keep the Johnnies in the half court. For the Red Storm to be successful on offense they need to be able to attack in the first 10 to 15 seconds of the shot clock.
Own the glass. St John's might miss a few shots, but given their size advantage and certain players’ thirst for the putback, there should be opportunities for the likes of David Jones and Joel Soriano, if they are playing hard and aggressively on the offensive glass.
St John's makes it exciting, but learns that despite the rumors, Villanova is still very much alive. A close 72-68 loss.