Don’t be fooled by their 0-11 conference record, the St. John’s Red Storm are capable of beating anyone when they’re at their best. Granted, they haven’t been their best much this season given injuries and streaky play. But tell that to Duke, who may have just lost their chances at a #1 seed after losing to St. John’s on Saturday.
The Villanova Wildcats will welcome the Johnnies to the Wells Fargo Center this Wednesday, having already beaten them at MSG earlier this season. This will be the 95th meeting between the schools, making Villanova St. John’s most frequently played opponent. The rematch is scheduled for 7:00 PM EST on CBS Sports Network, and here are three things to watch for as the ‘Cats prepare for their New York Rival.
Yes, St. John’s did just pull a massive upset against Duke. But there are two things to keep in mind if you think that means they can ride the momentum to take down the best team in the country.
First, Duke isn’t as great as some have made them out to be. Like Villanova, they do have an elite level offense that can win them most games. But unlike the Wildcats, Duke has a defense that ranks far outside the Top 50. If shots don’t fall and the Blue Devils turn the ball over, which they did a lot, they can be beaten.
Second, St. John’s hasn’t had a lot of success with ranked teams. Let’s put it this way, the win over Duke was just their second win over a ranked team in the Chris Mullen era. In fact, since Big East realignment the Red Storm are just 3-31 against ranked teams. Add in the fact that they haven’t beaten Villanova since 2011, and there’s a pretty compelling case that an upset is unlikely.
Both Teams Dealing With Injuries
These Big East foes are both trying to bounce back from some big time injuries this season. Villanova is still recovering from what I can only assume was the most epic high five drill in college basketball history, suffering three broken hands on the season. Colin Gillespie has been back for a few games now, and according to reports Jermaine Samuels could be back as soon as next week. Phil Booth remains sidelined and is hopeful to return for the Big East Tournament.
Booth’s replacement in the starting lineup has been Donte DiVincenzo, who may need to add “Storm Chaser” to his ever growing list of monikers. In four career games against St. John’s, DiVincenzo averages over 22 points per game, never scoring fewer than 19. In their previous matchup this season, he had 25 points (shooting over 60% from the floor and from deep), 7 rebounds, and 3 assists.
For St. John’s, they’ve been dealing with the loss of their second leading scorer Marcus LoVett, who has been ruled out for the season after an MCL sprain in his left knee. His loss has been filled by three players: Shamorie Ponds, Bashir Ahmed, and Tariq Owens. Those three combined for 69 of the team’s 81 points in their win over Duke, and it’s those same three that the Red Storm will rely on as they try to defeat Villanova.
Protect The Glass, Protect The Ball
In just about every interview you hear from Jay Wright, rebounding is one of the most important things he focuses on. Specifically, he wants to eliminate extra possessions from offensive rebounds for the opponent. Well that hasn’t quite sunk in yet for this year’s group, as Villanova ranks last in the Big East in opponent offensive rebounds and defensive OR%, giving up an average of more than 9 per game in conference play. What a coincidence, that’s exactly how many offensive rebounds St. John’s had against Duke.
But to get that big win, the Johnnies also had to force 18 turnovers. Villanova hasn’t had that many turnovers since... last year when they played St. John’s at the Wells Fargo Center. In both of their regular season games with the Red Storm last season, Villanova coughed up the ball more than 18 times. This season the Wildcats have been the 5th best team in the country when it comes to protecting the ball, and they’ve been even better in conference play. While turnovers and offensive boards would be the formula for a St. John’s upset, I just don’t see them prying the ball away from Villanova’s sure handed guards.