Two teams looking for vengeance will meet up at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night. Villanova travels north after their stunning overtime loss to a red-hot Seton Hall Pirates team. The Wildcats were simply outplayed on both ends of the court Saturday afternoon despite a monster 19-point, 24-rebound performance by Daniel Ochefu.
St. John's has started conference play much worse than Villanova, suffering a loss to Seton Hall as well as falling to the Butler Bulldogs. D'Angelo Harrison has been a superstar thus far, but the Red Storm has sorely missed the production of dynamic playmaker Rysheed Jordan who left the team due to personal reasons.
With the return of Jordan and a desperate St. John's team playing at Madison Square Garden, the Wildcats will be up against stiff competition yet again.
"Adversity doesn't build character, it reveals character"
We've all heard this quote, but it could not ring more true than in the context of the upcoming Villanova-St. John's matchup.
Wildcats fans know that the team they support is full of high-character individuals taught by one of the classiest coaches in college basketball. This, of course, is not the type of character at question here. What Villanova must prove, now, is that they have an extra gear, an edge that can fuel them when adversity hits. The teams that make final four appearances and win the entire tournament not only have talent, but have an ability to raise their level of play when the stakes are highest.
This is the first 'must-win' game of the season for Villanova. It isn't a must-win because of a fear of dropping in the polls or losing national popularity. The Wildcats must take this game because they have to show their attitude, something which has become the team's slogan and something Jay Wright has preached all season long. They have to remain calm and execute, but they also must charge at the Red Storm with a steady determination, with an edge they will need to extend their season into April.
Meanwhile, this game is also a 'must-win' for St. John's. After losing the first two games of the season, will we see the Johnnies fight through the adversity or raise their level of play to match the Wildcats? Keep an eye on what this game reveals about the character of both Villanova and St. John's.
Battle on the Block
Daniel Ochefu is coming off the best game of his career. Nineteen points. Twenty-four rebounds. Ochefu has evolved from a lanky, awkward backup into a dominant offensive and defensive force.
St. John's, however, has their own force down low. Meet Chris Obekpa, shot-blocking extraordinaire. Averaging just under four blocks per contest, Obekpa has undergone a similar transformation to Ochefu. While Ochefu may be more refined with his back to the basket, Obekpa has shown his confidence knocking down a short, mid-range jumper.
This is the matchup to watch. Two of the conference's elite big men will be going at it one-on-one, intimidating opposing penetration, and snatching every miss that should bounce off the rim and backboard. Both teams should look to challenge the opposing big man and get him in early foul trouble, as both have been known to do on occasion.
Dynamic Duo is Back
Rysheed Jordan will be returning to join his backcourt star D'Angelo Harrison to form a formidable offensive duo. Jordan and Harrison average a combined 34 points per game for the Red Storm, good for roughly half their team's total point production.
Villanova struggled to defend the duo of Sterling Gibbs and Khadeen Carrington of Seton Hall. Maybe it was due to foul trouble for both Darrun Hilliard and Dylan Ennis throughout the game. Maybe it was the rocking home atmosphere. Instead of making excuses for Saturday's performance, the Wildcat guards can redeem themselves by locking down the prolific duo of Harrison and Jordan.
In the waning seconds of the second half, Jay Wright added an intriguing defensive play call by doubling Gibbs in order to force the ball out of his hands. While the play worked to force overtime, it didn't have the same success in the overtime, not because it didn't force the ball from Gibbs' hands, but because the number two in command, Carrington, was able to capitalize off the dribble.
If the Wildcats use a similar scheme against Harrison, they must be careful not to ignore Jordan or even Phil Greene IV or Sir'Dominic Pointer. St. John's has multiple swingmen who can attack from all angles, but it's nothing a top-tier defensive team like Villanova can't take care of swiftly. If the Wildcats want to be ready for March and April, they must be able to shut down some of the top offensive guards in the conference.