Since their first meeting on January 6th, St. John’s and Villanova have been on similarly sliding paths. St. John’s is stuck in a three-game losing skid after a 4-1 start to conference play. Villanova has lost three of their last four games after a 3-0 start to conference play with their only win in that span coming against dreadful DePaul. Both teams are coming off gut-wrenching, close losses to top Big East contenders over the weekend. Something has to give between two teams desperate to return to the winning column on Wednesday night.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm vs. Villanova Wildcats (11-7)
When: Wednesday, January 24, 2024, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Radio: Learfield Red Storm Sports Network, Sirius XM Channel 389
Opening Odds: St. John’s (-2.5), O/U at 14.5
Series History: Villanova leads, 66-64.
St. John’s is 12-7 overall, and they are seventh in the Big East standings with a conference record of 4-4. St. John’s is currently rated 42nd in KenPom and 41st NET rankings while holding the 10th best strength of schedule rating in KenPom. Their records by NET quadrants are as follows, with opponents defeated in bold:
- 2-5 in Quad 1 games (Utah, Dayton, @ UConn, @ Villanova, @ Creighton, @ Seton Hall, Marquette)
- 4-1 in Quad 2 games (North Texas, Boston College, Xavier, Butler, Providence)
- 2-1 in Quad 3 games (Michigan, @ West Virginia, Hofstra)
- 4-0 in Quad 4 games (Stony Brook, Holy Cross, Sacred Heart, Fordham)
Note that Dayton, Utah, North Texas, and Boston College are designated as neutral site games
Facing Villanova (NET #36) at home gives St. John’s a chance to claim a Quad 2 win.
According to Bracket Matrix, St. John’s is seeded in 76 different bracketology selections with an average seed of 8.68. In his latest update, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has moved St. John’s down to an 9-seed.
According to the New York Post’s Zach Braziller, Jordan Dingle is expected to return on Wednesday night after missing his last two games with an illness. Dingle has returned to practice over the past couple of days.
Nahiem Alleyne is doubtful for Wednesday night’s game with an ankle injury, as his injury is milder than initially feared. Alleyne hurt his ankle after colliding with Chris Ledlum for a rebound early in the first half of Saturday’s game versus Marquette.
Storylines to follow
As St. John’s is slumping, so is their leading scorer and captain Joel Soriano. In his last two games, Soriano is averaging 8.5 points and 6.5 rebounds on 46% shooting. A silver lining to Soriano’s struggles is the emergence of Zuby Ejiofor. In those same two games, the sophomore big man is averaging 10.5 points and 4 rebounds on 63% shooting in 17 minutes per contest, even knocking down his first three of the season against Seton Hall.
Jordan Dingle’s return to the St. John’s rotation should alleviate some of the offensive ills that have pained the Red Storm in his absence. In their two losses to Seton Hall and Marquette, St. John’s collectively shot 40.8% from the field, 28.6% from three, and 69.7% from the free throw line.
After a five-game absence with a right knee injury, graduate guard Justin Moore made his return to the Wildcats on January 12th against DePaul and is steadily progressing into mid-season form. He looked more like his usual self in Villanova’s last game against UConn, scoring 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field.
Keys to the game
Nix Dixon (again) - Joel Soriano did a great job of holding Villanova’s leading scorer to a woeful 14 points on 4-of-18 from the field in his last meeting with Dixon. A repeat performance will be necessary if St. John’s wants to unsettle the Wildcats’ offense for a second time this season.
Attack the middle - St. John’s has been too tentative with the ball in recent games. They need to keep it simple and attack the paint, as they did when they lit up the Wildcats for 42 points in the paint in their first encounter.
Stop the fastbreak - A vulnerability for the Red Storm defense is their transition defense, which has allowed teams to get high-percentage chances on a regular basis. Villanova is a slow-tempo team, but St. John’s needs to stay in front of the Wildcats or else they risk conceding more prolonged scoring runs.
The returns of Justin Moore and Chris Ledlum balance the scales in a manner we haven’t seen in the first meeting between St. John’s and Villanova. The Wildcats still need other scorers on their team to step up, as they have continued to go cold for long stretches despite Moore’s presence.
St. John’s will also enjoy the return of their own shoot-first guard in Jordan Dingle and his contributions will be welcome for a team that has looked out-of-rhythm without him. St. John’s wins close, 71-66.