Needless to say, this has been a hectic week for St. John's basketball, both on and off the court. The Red Storm dropped both of their games, lost one of their top scorers for an indefinite period of time, and to make things worse, waiting for them on Tuesday night is a date with the top 10 Villanova Wildcats, who will be looking to avenge their first loss of the season this past weekend.
But with their second leading scorer, Rysheed Jordan, returning from his short-lived leave of absence from the team, the 24th-ranked Johnnies will be at full strength tomorrow night at the Garden when they take on the number 8 Villanova Wildcats in the hopes of avoiding an 0-3 start to Big East play.
How to Watch/Listen
The game will tip-off at 9:00 P.M. at Madison Square Garden, and will be broadcasted by Fox Sports 1 as part of a Big East doubleheader (Georgetown-Marquette is the first game) with Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery on the call. 970 AM (WNYM) will have a radio broadcast as well with John Minko and Vin Parise calling the game.
St. John's is currently a four point underdog to the one-loss Wildcats.
Scouting St. John's
The Red Storm have dropped their last two games after an 11-1 start to the season, giving them an 11-3 overall record along with a winless 0-2 Big East record. Despite their recent woes, the Johnnies still remain ranked at number 24 in both of this week's polls.
One big plus in this game for the Red Storm will be the return of Rysheed Jordan, who missed just one game after taking an "indefinite" leave of absence from the team on Friday. There are conflicting reports on what caused this turmoil, but in terms of on the court production, this could not be any bigger for St. John's.
Jordan is the team's second leading scorer with 14 points per game, and his presence on the court takes a load off the much-maligned St. John's bench, which as we saw on Saturday, is nearly nonexistent without him.
Jordan's scoring presence also takes some of the pressure off guys in the starting lineup like Phil Greene IV, Sir'Dominic Pointer, and Chris Obekpa to put up big offensive numbers for St. John's, both in this game and for the remainder of the year. Greene IV, Pointer, and Obekpa were all averaging career-highs in points per game so far this season, and it would have been tough to ask them to do anymore offensively. With Jordan back that concern evaporates.
The 13-1 Wildcats will come into Madison Square Garden after suffering their first loss of the season on Saturday at Seton Hall. They are led in scoring by guard Darrun Hilliard, although they feature a strikingly balanced scoring attack at this point in the season. Following Hilliard's 12.4 points per game, four Wildcats (JayVaughn Pinkston, Dylan Ennis, Josh Hart, and Daniel Ochefu) all average between 10.1 and 10.6 points per game.
Villanova's offensive numbers are impressive to say the least, which is what you would expect from the 8th-ranked team in the nation. Their 76 points per game is good enough for 36th in the nation, and as a team they shoot just under 47%, which puts them in a tie for 50th in the nation.
One of their main strengths, as noted above, is that they do not rely on just one player to carry them night after night, anyone of their starters (and even some of their bench guys) can lead them offensively on any given night. And that has been illustrated by their last five games, in which five different players have led them in scoring.
While they are not exceptionally strong in the rebounding department, Villanova does have a strong combination of big men down low, with Daniel Ochefu and preseason All-Big East first teamer JayVaughn Pinkston manning the paint. It will be a tall order for the weak St. John's frontcourt to try and defend those two for much of the night.
One final note on Villanova, they have only one player who averages more than 30 minutes per game (Ryan Arcidiacono with 30.1), and have seven guys playing between 12 and 28 minutes every night. Could this be a factor against the top-heavy Red Storm and their weak bench later in the game?
St. John's Keys to the Game
The odds are not in the Johnnies favor going into this one, but with Gus Johnson on the call and it being one day removed from Lou Carnesecca's birthday, maybe there will be some magic in The World's Most Famous Arena tonight. So how can St. John's pull off the upset and hold on to their top 25 ranking?
Transition (again). Well first of all, and this likely sounds repetitive, but they'll need some easy baskets both off turnovers and on the fast break. After the Seton Hall loss in which they had just 14 points off turnovers and 14 fast break points, the Red Storm responded on Saturday with just 13 points off turnovers and 12 fast break points. And while they were able to force the Bulldogs into a few bad turnovers in the first, we didn't see nearly enough of that as the game wore on.
As we've said seemingly one thousand times over the past few years, this team's strength is not in the half court. Even with Rysheed Jordan back, they are a team that needs to get out in transition for some layups and dunks if they are going to beat anyone, let alone the 8th-ranked Wildcats.
Some bench production, any bench production. During Saturday's loss to Butler, St. John's did not get a single point from their bench, not one single point. And while that number is skewed due to the absence of Jordan and the fact that their bench took a combined two shots throughout the game, it still speaks to one of this team's glaring weaknesses.
While Jordan will likely provide a scoring spark off the bench as he always has so far this season, they'll need someone else, whether it be Myles Stewart, Christian Jones, Felix Balamou (if he plays), or Joey De La Rosa, to provide some scoring off the bench. And they won't even need big numbers, just five points from these guys coupled with Jordan's usual average of 14 could go a long way for the Johnnies.
Keep Obekpa on the court. Going up against the talented Villanova frontcourt, Chris Obekpa will likely have his hands full all night, but it's important that the Johnnies best shot-blocker remains on the court for a majority of the game to alter and contest shots down low. If he picks up two early fouls, it exposes not only the Red Storm's weak bench but their weak frontcourt as well, as both Jones and De La Rosa will have to step up and play big, meaningful minutes.
Everyone around the Red Storm knows how big of a game this is. Some players are even calling it the biggest game in their St. John's career to this date. Whether or not that's true remains to be seen, but the fact is that St. John's needs a win badly in this one.
Not only would a win cement them into the top 25 for another week, but it would get them back on track in the conference going forward. One thing that we've seen so far in the first few days of Big East play is that seemingly anyone can beat anyone in the conference. Will that hold true in this one?
I won't be making a score prediction, but as I said earlier, I think that there will be some magic in the air at MSG tonight. Whether or not that translates to a Johnnies victory remains to be seen.
What's your score prediction?