Game Preview: Villanova vs. St. Johns
The Teams: Villanova (23-3, 11-2 BIG EAST) 1 Game Winning Streak
St. Johns (18-9, 8-6 BIG EAST) 6 Game Winning Streak
The Date: Saturday, February 22
The Time: 1:30 PM ET
The Location: Wells Fargo Center; Philadelphia, PA
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 1210 WHPT (Villanova) or Bloomberg 1130-AM (St. Johns)
The Story of the Season (Villanova)
If there's one thing that the Villanova Wildcats basketball team has been great at this seasons, it's been bouncing back from defeat. After each of their first two losses this season, the Wildcats promptly responded with five and six-game winning streaks, respectively. After suffering their third loss of the season, the Cats once again have another chance for a six-game winning streak off of a loss, with five more games left this season. Every game that remains on the schedule is perfectly winnable, as the lowest win probability for the Cats in any of the remaining games is 58% for the contest against Xavier. If Villanova can win out, there's a chance that Jay Wright's crew could make a case for a two seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Nova began the team's most current winning streak on Tuesday night against Providence, and really the guiding force in the double overtime victory, was sophomore point guard Ryan Arcidiacono. Arc had easily one of his best games of the year, scoring a season-high 21 points to go along with six assists and only one turnover. The one turnover was what stood out to me, because it just shows how much he's improved as a pure point guard that can take care of the ball. Last season, he struggled mightily with turnovers, so for him to commit only one last game, while playing a career-high 43 minutes. He was also great scoring-wise as well, with the previously mentioned season high in points, including the game-winner. He's transformed into a dual-threat that can both set up his teammates, yet also create shots for himself going forward.
The Story of the Season (St. Johns)
St. Johns is quietly transforming into the hottest team in the BIG EAST. Steve Lavin and Co. are making a serious run towards the NCAA Tourney, with the help of their longest winning streak this season. The Red Storm have won six straight including a huge win over Creighton, which was a huge quality win for a team that currently sits as one of the last four team's in the tourney, according to ESPN's Joe Lunardi.
The Red Storm will need their guards to carry them in this game, as they may be missing two huge pieces inside for this one. Senior forward Orlando Sanchez is definitely out, due to the birth of his daughter, and sophomore center Chris Obekpa will be a game-time decision with a nagging ankle injury. If both players end up sitting out, that will take away 15% of the team's scoring and 28% of the team's rebounding. This could be devastating for the Red Storm's chances of emerging Philly victorious, against the top rebounding team in the BIG EAST. The key to a St. John's victory will be if guys such as sophomore forward Jakarr Sampson and senior forward God'sgift Achiuwa can step up and match the play of JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu for Villanova.
Speaking of Sampson, he's been playing just as well as any other Johnnies player in the past month. Since January 16, Sampson has been averaging 14.3 ppg, which was capped off most recently with a career-high 23 points in a win over Butler. He's also been the team's most consistent rebounder, leading the team with 6.1 rpg, and he needs to play above and beyond his game inside to make up for the possible losses of St. John's second and third leading scorers.
The Players to Keep Your Eyes On:
Villanova: Senior guard James Bell has been one of the best models of consistency in the entire nation over the past month of play. He has scored double digits in the past 10 games, and as a result has slowly become the Wildcats go-to option, taking that role away from Pinkston inside. It has also given Villanova a viable inside-out option that makes the team extremely dangerous, because it force other teams to focus on both aspects of the Nova offense, as opposed to focusing more of their defensive efforts on one facet or the other. This game against St. John's will be a redemption game for Bell of sorts, because the last time that he failed to score double digit points was January 11 in a victory over St. Johns in which he only scored four points.
St. Johns: Much like Bell, junior combo-guard D`Angelo Harrison is the pace setter on offense for the Johnnies. He leads the team in points, with 17.9 ppg, to go along with a healthy 4.4 rpg, as he is one of the better rebounding guards in the BIG EAST. Much of Harrison's offensive success comes from his ability to get to the free throw line as early and as frequently as possible. On the season, Harrison has failed to reach double-digit points in three games. In all three of those games, he went to the charity stripe four times or less.
The Stat of the Game:
Despite trailing the all-time series 48-59, Villanova has not lost to St. Johns in almost three years.
The Prediction: If both teams are 100% healthy and both have all of their players available for this game, it would be an extremely close one. Unfortunately, the Johnnies are not at full availability, as they are missing two of their best inside contributors. Therefore, I don't believe the game will be as close and as tight as it could be. Look for Villanova to attack the middle of the St. Johns defense early to test the new big man rotation. In the end, I believe that the missing pieces inside will be the difference in a Villanova victory to snap the longest current winning streak in the BIG EAST.
Villanova 83 St. Johns 72