St. John’s comes back to action on a Very Special
Episode Game, the first Big East game at Madison Square Garden.
For an opponent, they get Villanova, a Big East stalwart that is struggling in the first year under their new coach. A team tied in the standings with St. John’s and DePaul. A team that has handled St. John’s for the last 20 years (the Red Storm is 5-28 against the Wildcats since the 2022-23 season), and has a five game winning streak against the Red Storm.
Tonight is the night. Can the Johnnies send the fans into the chilly Friday night with joy, or thinking about the team’s recent struggles? Can the Red Storm come away tonight with a three-game winning streak?
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (13-6, 3-5 Big East) vs Villanova Wildcats (9-10, 3-5 Big East)
When: Friday, January 20, 2023, 7:00 PM
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Odds: St. John’s, -4.5
Last Season: The Wildcats ended the Johnnies’ season in the Big East Tournament, and also eked out another win in a rough game at Madison Square Garden. But the Rumble got to use “heartbreaker” twice in the headlines.
Last time out: St. John’s lost the plot late in the second half, gave up and 11-point lead, and lost by 15 in Philadelphia.
Since the team have last met, Villanova has been on a bit of a skid. The Wildcats have lost to Connecticut, Xavier and Marquette, along with losses to DePaul and Butler. Villanova’s two wins have both been against Georgetown, winless in the Big East. The last win was a close one; guards Jordan Riley and Primo Spears combined for 37 points, and only Villanova’s hot three-point shooting staved off a Hoya upset.
Speaking of shooting, the Wildcats have struggled from beyond the arc in road games in the Big East, shooting 33% or worse from deep. They have not been consistent at home, either, but the road shooting woes are real. The woes have coincided with an inability to generate assists; many of the shots the Wildcats are taking are threes off the dribble, off of a screen — and also under pressure.
Guard Jordan Longino is out. Longino had 13 points on 5/5 shooting and 2/2 from the free throw line against St. John’s. Justin Moore continues to be out recovering from a torn right Achilles injury, though he was back at practice in late December. Little-used guard Antony Brizzi decided to transfer in late December.
Meanwhile, Trey Patterson, a 6’9” forward who did not play against St. John’s, gets some minutes. Cam Whitmore gets more minutes, and has moved into the starting lineup. Whitmore has found his three-point shooting touch, and is still a highly-athletic, attack-minded wing.
The rest of the team is as expected: forward Eric Dixon and guard Caleb Daniels are the players who look for their shots the most. Brandon Slater has scored in double digits three times this season, in the team’s wins against Georgetown and against St. John’s, and each of the games saw Slater get to the line four or more times.
Chris Arcidiacono and lesser-used Brandon Hausen will take a number of three-pointers. Athletic freshman Mark Armstrong scored in double digits in the Wildcats’ two wins (14 in each) , and his next highest scoring output was against St. John’s, where he had eight points.
Keys to the Game
St. John’s may have found a bit of rhythm in recent games, coinciding with Big East Freshman of the Week AJ Storr and additional minutes from Rafael Pinzon. Those two players are quick enough to get into the lane but are credible jump shooting threats. Freshman guard Kolby King has gotten some minutes as an energetic lead guard.
Joel Soriano has become the true heart of the team, providing toughness and physicality; in the box score, he has been a near lock for a double-double. Montez Mathis has been out for a few games with a foot injury; and David Jones has seen fewer minutes.
Keep up the chaos. St. John’s has to continue to be disruptive on defense. Hurrying the Wildcats up is good, but making sure they do not make connections with each other, making sure they do not get into a ball passing flow, is key.
Own the glass. Villanova plays a guard-heavy offense, and the team are not naturally strong rebounders. The Johnnies need to work hard and be physical inside, and make sure Villanova does not get second shots — and make sure the Red Storm do get second shots.
Skills. The Red Storm have been a little better of late, but continue to struggle with missed free throws (23/37 from the line), and continue to be a poor three-point shooting team (2/13 vs UConn). Villanova will look to exploit their opportunities; St. John’s has to get on top and shut the door on the Wildcats.
St. John’s should handle things, but free throws make the game closer than maybe it should be. 77-73, Red Storm win.