The Villanova Wildcats (9-10, 3-5 Big East) will take their inaugural trip of the season to Madison Square Garden and complete their regular season matchups against the St. John’s Red Storm (13-6, 3-5 Big East), which will tip off at 7:00pm ET on Fox Sports 1.
The two squads will be dueling over conference positioning as they both hold 3-5 records as the Big East schedule inches closer to its halfway point.
Both teams have experienced rough patches since their last matchup in December with Villanova losing five games over a six-game stretch, and St. John’s recently shaking off a five-game losing streak.
With each team looking to extend their recent win streaks, let’s dive in and chat about what Friday night’s game might look like.
Big East play hasn’t been kind to both the ‘Cats and the Red Storm. Everyone is familiar with Villanova’s struggles both on the court and with injuries, but the Johnnies are no different.
The loss to Villanova kicked off a five-game losing streak for head coach Mike Anderson as they battled through a rough stretch of games which included Xavier, Marquette and Providence. Then again, there’s no real “easy” stretch in Big East play this year.
However, the Red Storm see themselves climbing up the standing with a two-game win streak including an eye-opening win over UConn on the road. This is now UConn’s fourth loss in five games after squeaking past the Cats a few weeks ago.
What’s gone right for the Johnnies of late?
The headline, and apologies for beating a dead horse here, but it’s the turnover battle. St. John’s is known for their “40 minutes of hell” and turning games into street fights. Of late, they’ve done just that.
Their two wins resulted in generating 20+ turnovers in each game and have won the turnover battle by +15 over that stretch. St. John’s adjusted tempo is now 2nd in the country and their average possession length is also the second shortest in basketball.
Additionally, their offense has slightly woken up with a better balance of handling the scoring load. But more on that in a minute.
Meanwhile, the young Cats have had their ups and down in conference play. Villanova just snapped a three-game losing streak with their second win over Georgetown but have taken a step back defensively since the injury to Jordan Longino.
While both teams have recently added to the win column – St. John’s is riding with a lot of momentum.
Game 2 Adjustments
This will be Kyle Neptune’s second game against St. John’s so something to look out for is how they’ll act to the Johnnies’ expected adjustments seeing that the Cats had a nearly perfect execution last time.
To quickly recap – the Cats handled St. John’s 78-63 in late December to start Big East play. Eric Dixon led four players in double figures with 18 points, while the team shot 32% for three point and won the turnover battle 11 to 12.
The one missing piece in this game will be Longino (assuming he’s still out). He was a perfect 4-of-4 with 13 points in the last matchup. On the defensive side, the team has regressed slightly in his absence.
Other than that – the Cats did almost everything right: shot well, out rebounded, limited turnovers, and utilized a 20-2 run to bury the Red Storm.
What exactly will Anderson drum up to turn the tide?
At the highest level, I don’t expect their approach to change too much: play 40 minutes of hell, always push the tempo, and limit Villanova’s possessions through turnovers.
One area they may have in their game plan is try and draw some early fouls on Armstrong. The freshman point guard has had some great games in conference play thus far which has resulted in a meaningful jump in minutes the past month. Four of the last five games he’s played 25-plus minutes.
However, he has picked up fouls in bunches at times including against Xavier and Butler which resulted in foul out in both games along with only six minutes played at Butler.
With a team looking to force turnovers, Coach Neptune will need his entire arsenal of ball handlers available for 40 minutes.
One small note – despite this game being home for St. John’s, they’re home court advantage might not be as prominent as normal. Nova Nation usually shows up in force at the Garden, so it’ll be something to look out for.
A Brewing Storm
In their recent win streak, St. John’s has spread the offensive load across the board which could spell trouble for Villanova.
A quick recap - The Johnnies had two double digit scorers in their last game against Villanova with Joel Soriano leading with 17 points, and AJ Storr with 15.
Soriano is still on a tear since Eric Dixon has last seen him – he’s averaged nearly 16 points, 11 rebounds and 1 block a game after punishing the Cats with 17 points, 13 rebounds and 4 blocks. The Dixon vs Soriano matchup will the heavy weight headliner at the Garden but they may neutralize each other out like last game.
The Cats will be likely dealing with new rotations since the last time they faced off. Only Soriano and Posh Alexander started against Villanova and against UConn in their latest game as Coach Anderson has changed things up. It’s important to note that starter Montez Mathis, who played 31 minutes against Villanova has not played since January 3rd with a toe injury.
Maybe the changes in the starting lineup have worked as the last two wins resulted in six double digit scorers against UConn and four against Butler with another two players going above eight points.
One name to watch out for is sophomore guard Rafael Pinzon, who has scored double digits in the last three games and could be one to help with the St. John’s shooting woes.
It doesn’t get much better than a Friday night at the Garden. The Cats might be missing their sixth starter and the Red Storm are coming off their biggest win of the season – but they executed a great game plan last time. Once again, this matchup should be a tight one – a battle of two opposite playing styles and hopefully results in a win for Neptune and the ‘Cats before a long eight-day layoff.