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Villanova vs. St. John’s: Three Things to Watch For

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The Wildcats are back in Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The Villanova Wildcats continue Big East play tomorrow night, when they take on the St. John’s Red Storm, who are trying to break Villanova’s 12-game winning streak against them. St. John’s has had a rough stretch to start conference play, losing their first five games and key player Marcus LoVett for the season to injury, based on recent news. Here are three things to watch for :

On Golden Ponds

St. John’s is led by sophomore point guard Shamorie Ponds, who paces the team with over 19 points per game, five rebounds per game, and five assists per game. Ponds has an ability to score at will, as well as make an impact on the defensive end with the way he’s able to force turnovers at a pretty high rate. However, outside of him, this team has been struggling to get offensive production. With his partner-in-crime, LoVett, out--this team has gone from having one of the best young backcourts to Ponds and everyone else. With this increased workload, Ponds might be building off his freshman season with more points per game, but his shooting numbers have drastically dropped. He’s shooting below 40 percent overall, but most notably--he takes the seventh most three-pointers in the Big East (102) and has only knocked down 19.8 percent of those takes from deep. Overall, the Red Storm have scored a measly 70.6 points per game in conference play, good for worst in the league. Villanova is coming off of a dominant all-around performance against Xavier, so don’t expect this trend to change. Ponds does have new guys like Arizona transfer Justin Simon and former Michigan State Spartan Marvin Clark II to work with, but it’s clear that St. John’s hasn’t operated the same offensively without LoVett. LoVett could add another sharpshooting threat, but now, they seem a bit one-dimensional and won’t threaten with a 32.0 percent team three-point shooting rate.

Block Party

Regardless of how much St. John’s might struggle on offense, it remains intense defensively. This is a team that generates turnovers at a high clip--on 25 percent of opponents’ possessions, good for third in the country. The Red Storm also has a few great rim protectors, especially Tariq Owens, who is coming off of a career-high eight-block performance against the Georgetown Hoyas. He’s the fifth-highest shot blocker in Division I and leads a frontcourt that has helped hold opponents to shooting just 43 percent inside the arc--top 20 in the country. Owens provides some great help down low on the defensive end and gets the home crowd going with a big rejection. Fortunately for a three-point shooting team like Villanova, this excellence inside does not exactly carryover to the perimeter. St. John’s has a subpar three-point defense, allowing teams to nail 36.5 percent of their shots from beyond the arc.

March of the Wooden Soldiers

Both Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges were named to the Wooden Award mid-season watch list, which lists the 25 best players in college basketball. The two Wildcats were two of five Big East players listed, as they have led Villanova to a stellar start to their season. Brunson has been the rock for the Wildcats, shooting 58.4 percent overall and an impressive 48.0 percent on threes for the season--while being the premiere floor general in the country, never tallying less than 12 points and only 2 games with less than four assists. Bridges has had higher highs (career high 28 points against Gonzaga), but also lower lows (seven points against Temple). Even then, he’s still been fantastic so far. He’s right behind Brunson with just over 17 points per game and is one of the best two-way players in the game. If Bridges can improve his consistency while keeping up his quality of play, Villanova will be an even more terrifying team to face come March.

Tipoff for the game is at 8:00 p.m. at Madison Square Garden, and the game will be broadcast on the FOX Business Network, for some reason.