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Game Preview: St. John’s Red Storm

Villanova looks to avenge its worst loss of the season.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at St. John Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Villanova will try to avoid just its first season sweep by a Big East Opponent since 2017 when it tries to avenge their February 3rd loss to St. John’s.

St. John’s is likely facing their last best chance to make a case for the NCAA Tournament, and Villanova will be looking to close in on it’s 7th Big East Regular Season Championship in 8 years.

Tuesday’s game will be at 8 p.m. on CBS Sports Network. Hope everyone’s ready for more Steve Lappas!

Big Test for Guard U

Collin Gillespie’s outstanding senior season hit a snag on February 3rd at St. John’s. After having just 12 turnovers through the first 12 games, St. John’s forced six Gillespie turnovers, many of which were of the live-ball variety that immediately turned into points. Gillespie added an 0-of-8 performance from three to complete the nightmare evening. In the subsequent four games, Coach Jay Wright has lightened the load on Collin Gillespie a bit, with Justin Moore acting as the primary initiator on a number of possessions, even with Gillespie in the game.

Tonight will be a huge test for them both. Posh Alexander and Rasheem Dunn provided relentless pressure in the first matchup, and St. John’s will look to trap in any situation. With little ball handling help on the bench, Villanova playing more to their miniscule season turnover average than to the 17 cough-ups they had in the first matchup will fall mostly on Gillespie and Moore’s shoulders.

Bigger Test for the Frontcourt

As damaging as the Gillespie turnovers were in the first matchup, the biggest factor in this game will be what happens after the initial backcourt press is broken.

In the first game, Villanova’s frontcourt struggled mightily in the open court making St. John’s pay for extending their defense. In last year’s two matchups with Coach Mike Anderson’s “Forty Minutes of Hell” style, Villanova created first-half double-digit leads to take control of each game. They did so by attacking 3-on-2s and taking advantage of early great looks.

Saddiq Bey finished with 23 points in each game – many of which coming from open 3s in transition. Villanova wants to play at a much slower pace than St. John’s, but with a defense as aggressive as St. John’s, the only way to slow them down is to continually make them inbound the ball after made baskets. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Jermaine Samuels, Cole Swider, Caleb Daniels, Eric Dixon, and Brandon Slater all looked uncomfortable in open space, unclear of whether to attack or wait for the guards to initiate a half court set. A number of unsure passes were deflected and several shots were blocked in situations where Villanova should have had a huge advantage.

Samuels in particular has found another gear since the first matchup, but it will be a test of toughness for all of the frontcourt to improve on the last outing.

Defensive Foundations Building?

In the big picture, the biggest inhibitor to Villanova’s long-term success this season remains on the defensive end. After a nightmarish effort on the defensive end at Creighton, Villanova looked more engaged and connected Saturday, keeping UConn to just a 42.7% eFG%. It was the best defensive eFG% given up all season. St. John’s shot the ball uncharacteristically well from three in the first matchup, but whether hot or cold, their quickness on the perimeter will be a big test for Villanova. St. John’s isn’t going to do much other than try to drive and kick, and so if Villanova defenders are able to stay in front without fouling, they should be able to have success. There are no true post players in St. John’s rotation, though. So Villanova’s entire rotation will be tested in their ability to move their feet and prevent straight line drives.