The Villanova Wildcats (11-7) are gearing up for a crucial rematch against the St. John’s Red Storm (12-7) at the iconic Madison Square Garden, seeking redemption for their loss on January 6th.
Both teams come into this game amidst a streak of losses. The Wildcats have come up short in their last two outings and have won just one out of their last four games. Similarly, the Red Storm are reeling from three consecutive defeats, two of which were agonizingly close, decided by just one point.
Go Big or Go Home
In their previous encounter, St. John’s took control from the start, maintaining the lead throughout the game in a quiet Finneran Pavilion, devoid of its usual student crowd due to winter break. Joel Soriano was a standout performer, racking up 20 points and eight rebounds. His ability to single-handedly guard Eric Dixon was a key factor in that game. To put this in perspective, even 2023 All-American Armando Bacot struggled mightily guarding Dixon one-on-one - Dixon scored 34 points against him. However, Soriano proved to be a formidable match for Dixon, holding him to 14 points and forcing him to try to set up shop at the perimeter.
Despite Dixon’s 14-point contribution, his shooting was off the mark, with only 4 successful shots out of 18 attempts. The Wildcats also felt the absence of Justin Moore keenly in that game.
Lance Ware saw eight minutes of play, while Nnanna Njoku only managed one minute on the court before missing the next three games. Njoku’s participation in the upcoming matchup remains uncertain.
For the Wildcats to emerge victorious in this crucial game, Coach Kyle Neptune might need to consider a way to get Dixon going, or now that the 'Cats got a taste firsthand of St. John's multiple defensive looks, they can better deal with it a second time around.
The January 6th game saw St. John’s outshine Villanova not just in the frontcourt but in the backcourt as well. Daniss Jenkins was instrumental, sinking challenging jumpers and finishing with 18 points and five assists.
St. John’s strategy of accelerating the game pace and inducing turnovers paid dividends. They capitalized on Villanova’s vulnerabilities, especially in the absence of Justin Moore, by applying relentless pressure and converting seven of Villanova’s 11 turnovers into steals.
In that game, Villanova struggled particularly with inbounding, a weakness St. John’s is likely to exploit again. T.J. Bamba was a notable performer for the Wildcats, scoring a season-high 23 points, while Mark Armstrong set a personal scoring record that he has since surpassed twice.
To turn the tables in the rematch, Villanova needs a focused approach: take care of the ball, defend and rebound. A challenging yet achievable set of goals. The game is scheduled for January 24th at 8:30 pm EST and will be broadcast on FS1.