Villanova will travel to Madison Square Garden for a late tip-off with St. John's on Tuesday night for a game that both coaches will feel they need. Villanova is coming off of a tough loss in overtime at Seton Hall, while the Johnnies have started out 0-2 in the Big East after climbing to #15 in the national rankings during the out-of-conference portion of the schedule.
To preview the game, we emailed with Norman Rose, proprietor of Rumble In The Garden, to walk us through the Red Storm's season thus far. Make sure to head over to Rumble to catch my answers on Villanova.
1. Outside of a no-shame loss to Gonzaga Bulldogs, the Johnnies ripped through OOC play but have since started 0-2 in the Big East. Blip on the radar or did Seton Hall Pirates and Butler Bulldogs expose St. John's?
I'll hedge and say a bit of both.
St. John's has a number of obvious problems to be exploited - they have so-so scoring; they are dependent on their defense to generate offensive chances; they are not particularly adept at rebounding and don't have much depth in the post; and they are not deep. Teams had been able to dig into those problems at times in the non-conference schedule, but the defensive energy of St. John's always pulled them right back into the game.
Seton Hall exposed the post play and how much the team is dependent on defense/ turnovers to generate offense. Butler exposed a different problem - sheer depth. St. John's needs guards to play with energy and create offensive chances/ draw fouls. Rysheed Jordan - now on a leave of absence - may not have become an efficient lead guard, but he does provide the threat of scoring at the rim and drawing fouls. And he has been a terror for stretches in pressure defense.
2. If there's a major flaw in St. John's right now, it appears to be their depth. Any concern about the amount of minutes the starters are logging and Villanova's ability to draw fouls?
Yes. Deep, deep concern.
As it is, the Red Storm seemed gassed defending Butler's manic energy, especially when they needed to force turnovers. Villanova is deeper and better. In the paint in particular there is the issue that Chris Obekpa makes the defense excellent - but he can't play 40 minutes giving the effort he needs to in order to be the "gamechanger".
(Really, even at 30, you'd like to see him get a blow.)
He can also be called for fouls. Behind him are some forwards who are willing to give their bodies but aren't as talented. Moreover, the Red Storm defense is predicated on being able to funnel opponents into Obekpa. When he's out, it sometimes seems opponents are being funneled into a layup.
3. Talk me through Chris Obekpa's short shorts - it's not often Jay Wright's suits are upstaged but that might be the case on Tuesday night.
The short shorts thing is a pretty silly phenomenon. I liken it to swimmers shaving themselves to reduce drag. Chris Obekpa just felt that the sweat-soaked shorts were dragging him down, then rolled them up like a diaper. Under Armor got him some short shorts so you can see the wonders of his thighs when he leaps.
In conclusion, I think it's all for the ladies. (& some fellas)
4. This team looks very unchanged from a year ago - are there any new faces Wildcat fans should know about and keep an eye on?
Joey DeLaRosa gives some minutes in the paint when Obekpa is out. The older brother of Adonis, he played at Florida International under Isaiah Thomas for a couple of years and left the game, deciding to go to St. John's for the rest of his college career. Now he's a walk-on with a big body and no compunctions against putting opponent on the floor.
Surprisingly, despite not being an adept rebounder and not being much of a scorer, and being bad at shooting free throws, that has some uses.
Christian Jones is a forward who redshirted last year and gets some fill-in minutes.
Myles Stewart is a walk-on shooter from California who was touted for a minute as a rotation piece after the Gonzaga and Niagara games, but has barely played since scoring nine against Niagara.
Felix Balamou was said to be in a walking boot for the Butler game, out with an ankle injury. He is a raw wing with great athleticism.
5. Is Steve Lavin the right man for the job, or is the fanbase starting to get antsy for a change?
Many in the fanbase have had it with the constant drama. Others see that the Johnnies are relevant again, and think he provides great life lessons over just teaching basketball.
I can't say that the fanbase is as antsy for change as they were through the Norm Roberts years, but there is definite discontent.