Having won 5 games on the bounce, Villanova officially closed out the non-conference portion of their schedule with an 8-4 record, including a 2-2 mark in the Philadelphia Big 5. While things have been better of late, the level of competition has also dipped, meaning that we don't yet really know if the team is making the strides that the fans desire.
(And a quick side note, do read Ed's midseason review - it's excellent)
So entering the meatgrinder portion of the schedule that is the Big East, we're going to find out if this Villanova team can find it's way into the postseason. The NCAA's are quite the longshot, but the NIT is a realistic goal if Villanova can break into the top 10 of the conference.
First up, a visit from the St. John's Red Storm. Last year, Villanova went into New York and dispatched St. John's in overtime 79-76. The bad news though is that Maalik Wayns dropped 28 that day and Dominic Cheek chipped in 20. More bad news - D'Angelo Harrison is back for the Red Storm, and he torched Villanova for 28 points last season.
Other than Harrison, St. John's has gotten a mixed bag from the rest of the backcourt. Phil Greene starts alongside Harrison and is a threat from the outside, and Jamal Branch will see some action at the point so that Harrison can play off the ball. Marco Bourgault is another to watch from deep - he'll likely be the one 'Nova fans are screaming about.
The secondary scoring option for Steve Lavin's team is Jakarr Sampson. Averaging nearly 15 points per game on the wing, Sampson is an early candidate for Big East Rookie of the Year. His emergence has meant that Amir Garrett and Sir'Dominic Pointer have found minutes harder to come by.
The frontcourt matchup will be interesting as well. St. John's leads the nation in blocked shots, but is struggling to match that production in the rebounding department. Chris Obekpa is the main man in the middle, and you'll all remember God'sgift Achiuwa as well. Villanova, again a good rebounding bunch that doesn't rely a lot on inside scoring, should have an advantage here.
Like last year, this should be an evenly matched game, and one that 'Nova fans should hope to win, especially with the game at home. However, with most students still away for the holiday break, The Pavilion may not provide much of a homecourt advantage.
Can the Cats start off on the right foot in 2013?
Rumble in the Garden: Big East play starts for the Johnnies in the City of Brotherly Love
Tip Off: 805p ET vs. St. John's (8-4, 0-0)
Location: The Pavilion, Villanova, PA (capacity: 6,500)
TV: ESPNU | ESPN3