Let’s face it, these are not very good teams. St. John’s and Georgetown, along with DePaul and a stumbling Xavier, will play in what essentially amounts to “play-in” games today while the rest of the league starts their Big East Tournament Tournament tomorrow. Villanova has swept all four games between these two potential opponents this season, and they’ll be heavily favored regardless of who they face Thursday.
But while these teams aren’t the cream of the crop, they’re more inconsistent than they are bad. Georgetown has a neutral court win over #5 Oregon, as well as road wins over Syracuse, a likely NCAA tournament team, and #18 Butler, a team that’s beaten the Wildcats twice already this season. St. John’s also has a win over #18 Butler, as well as victories over Syracuse and the Big East’s hottest team, Providence. Sure, they’re both likely to finish the season with losing records, but these programs are capable of putting together a single game good enough to take down the defending National Champions.
So with tomorrow’s opponent still up for grabs (tip-off is at 7PM on FS1, streaming on Fox Sports Go), today we present a “Choose Your Own Opponent” version of the Villanova Wildcats game preview.
If St. John’s Wins
Despite playing essentially a home game, being the higher seeded team, and having beaten Georgetown less than two weeks ago in the same building, St. John’s is a 1 point underdog going into the game. One reason the odds makers don’t like the Red Storm is the team relies heavily on freshman guards Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds, who have never played in the BET before. For the Johnnies to win, those two will have to be on point. The other key member for the team is forward Bashir Ahmed who’s third in scoring and first in rebounds. In their last game against Georgetown, the trio combined for 51 points, nearly 60% of the team’s scoring. They’ll need a similar effort to pull out a victory Wednesday.
As for facing Villanova, the Red Storm made those games a lot closer than their two 13 point losses would suggest. In their first meeting at MSG, St. John’s led for most of the first half, and were still within 2 points early in the second. Eventually, Villanova’s defense clamped down and Donte DiVincenzo had a career high 19 points to pull out the victory. However, Jay Wright was clearly disapointed with his player’s effort in the game, saying they were out-hustled by St. John’s. In the rematch, Villanova led by double digits for most of the game. But even up by 23 with under 3 minutes to play, the Wildcats let the Johnnies go on a 15-5 run to close things out.
Bottom line, St. John’s can score a lot of points fast when their shots are falling. They push the pace with quick, athletic guards while trying to create turnovers and shot-blocking opportunities on defense. Villanova’s key to success, as it was in their second game this season, is controlling the tempo and getting home on defense. By dictating the pace of play and not letting St. John’s get out an run, they severely limit their offensive firepower. On offense, patiently finding the right shot in what has been a porous defense should lead to easy buckets. But if Nova gets frustrated by their guards and starts getting into a sprint (the St. John’s games were the 1st and 4th fastest tempo games Nova has played all season), that opens the door for an upset.
If Georgetown Wins
The Hoyas actually split their season series with St. John’s this season. The first game was a blow out as Georgetown easily won by 28 at home. In that game, the Johnnies scoring trio was held to just 32 points, and 3-17 from deep. Georgetown on the other hand had four players in double figures. The Hoyas are a much more experienced team led by senior Rodney Pryor and junior LJ Peak. Add in sophomore big man Jessie Govan, and it’s clear that Georgetown has the talent to be dangerous, it just hasn’t all come together.
Villanova’s games against the Hoyas didn’t come until late in the season, and the first was again closer than the final score would suggest. Playing at the Pavilion for the first time in a decade, the Wildcats held a comfortable lead for most of the game. But down the stretch Georgetown came storming back, cutting the lead to just 2 points with 2:18 left to play. Fueled by the home crowd and likely Big East POY Josh Hart, Villanova took over the final minutes of the game on both ends, closing on a 14-5 run for the double digit victory. In the rematch to close out the regular season, Villanova controlled the game start to finish, winning easily by 26 at Georgetown.
Again, defense will be crucial for a Villanova victory. Pryor has shown that he can go off against Nova, scoring 20 or more in both contests this season. Shutting him down with Co-Defensive Players of the Year Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges will be key to limiting Georgetown’s offense. They’ll also need to stay disciplined defensively as the Hoyas are 20th in the country in Free Throw Rate (getting to the foul line), and shoot 73.8% once they get there. On offense, Villanova will have to find ways to avoid long scoring droughts. Georgetown actually ranks in the top half of the Big East in defensive efficiency, so if there’s a chance they can upset the #1 seeded Wildcats it’ll be by limiting their offensive opportunities.
Villanova’s opponent will be taking the court less than 15 hours after their game tonight ends. This leads to a “double edged sword” opportunity for the Wildcats. If they come out aggressive on both ends, an option they now have with Darryl Reynolds back in the line-up, they may be able to force mistakes from a team forced to play two games on a very short turn-around. However, if the extra pressure causes Villanova to start making errors, the momentum from the previous night’s victory could carry over for their opponent.
Personally, I prefer a little bit of both. I like when this team gets aggressive on defense. They’re disciplined enough not to give up easy fouls while cohesive enough to provide help defense if a man gets beat. On offense however, this team is much better when they slow things down. They’re dangerous shooters demand attention around the perimeter, but they’re also a great passing team that creates mismatches and finds an open shots without forcing things. That is unless they’re in transition, then run baby run!
No matter what, Villanova will be expected by everyone to win. By a lot. In addition to the school’s third Big East Tournament Title, seeding in the NCAA Tournament is also at stake. While most analysts agree that a loss likely wouldn’t knock Villanova off the top line, it could move them out of the Eastern Region and a chance to return to NYC for the second weekend of the tournament. With that much on the line, I expect the team will come out focused and ready to play regardless of their opponent on Thursday.