What's the key to the Wildcats bouncing back from their first loss of the season?
Adam J, Belletti (Villanova): They need to be hungry. Their defense lacked its typical intensity. If the fear of losing two in a row doesn't light a fire under the Wildcats' collective butt, I don't know what will. Their facing another team with great scoring guards. If they can't do a better job on Rysheed Jordan and D'Angelo Harrison than they did on Khadeen Carrington and Sterling Gibbs, they're going to have a rough night at the Garden. Their best match-up may be JayVaughn Pinkston. They will need a solid night from him against this talented Red Storm team.
Eric Kelly (Villanova): I think the key for this team is to come out mentally ready to win. Many times it's tough for a team to come off of a loss, especially the first of the season, and be mentally prepared for another game, especially only three days after. They're going to be in a tough environment and a big stage in Madison Square Garden, and if they're not ready to go come game-time, it could be a rough game for them, because they are playing a hungry St. John's team looking to break a two-game losing streak.
Brian Nestel (St. John's): Jay Wright has to bring out his most expensive and fanciest suit for this one in order for Villanova to bounce back.
Well, not really, but they'll need to come out firing against a hungry and talented St. John's squad coming off two straight Big East losses of their own. It's a great chance to help bury a rival in the Big East early in conference play. Both team's play a similar guard-heavy lineup with really only one big man to play. And it will be the big man for Villanova who will be key to knocking off the Red Storm. If Daniel Ochefu can outplay St. John's big guy Chris Obekpa, this will be Villanova's game for the taking.
Is it necessary for someone to step up and be Villanova's go-to scorer?
AJB: The beauty of this team is that anyone can step up and be Villanova's go-to scorer. Do you hear anyone complaining that the other blue and white Wildcats don't have anyone scoring more than 10.3 points per game? The men's basketball teams at Villanova and the University of Kentucky are different in a lot of ways and similar in a lot of ways. While they do it with different types of talent and different game plans, both are very talented and spread their offense. This only makes a team harder to stop. With the emergence of Daniel Ochefu's offensive game, the Main Line Wildcats literally have 7 guys who could drop 20 points on you at any time. I wouldn't expect that tonight though as Chris Obekpa is one of the most talented defensive bigs in the college game. Big East fans as a whole should be chomping at the bit to see this match-up, it's going to be great.
EK: I don't think so, just because of the fact that scoring isn't the number one issue for this team right now. Currently, the ‘Cats are till 35th nationally and second in the Big East in scoring, even without a single player in the top five individually in the conference in scoring. At times, I think it's even better for them to be much more balanced, because it's more for opposing defenses to think about. You can't just focus on one player each night, because there are seven or eight guys who can step up and score in any given game.
BN: It's always nice to have one player step up and just absolutely dominate a game. I'm sure if Darrun Hilliard decides to put up 31 points tonight, no one would complain. But they don't necessarily need that due to their scoring balance. When a team is able to have five players that average 10+ points per game, it proves very difficult for any opposition. Although, if they get a player to light it up and stand out, Wildcat fans would be extremely pleased.
Who's the most important player on each team?
AJB: I agree with Eric that Villanova is going to need more from Dylan Ennis. His defense and shooting are going to be a significant factors tonight. However, I think the Wildcats will turn to JayVaughn Pinkston as their go-to scorer on this particular night. St. John's has had a lot of attrition with their bigs this year and are relatively thin up front. If he can get to the lane and draw fouls it is going to put a lot of pressure on the Johnnies. They play a hard style of defense and can get into foul trouble if pressed. If Villanova and Pinkston can do this and can shoot better than 57% from the line, they'll be able to seal the win.
EK: For me, the most important player on Villanova tonight is Dylan Ennis and for the Red Storm it's D'Angelo Harrison. Against, Seton Hall, Ennis was literally invisible. He didn't score a single point and grabbed only four rebounds in 24 minutes of action against Seton Hall. He's the third leading scorer on the team, and needs to break out of this current slump he's in, as he's only racked up double digit points in one of his last five contests. On top of all that, he will most likely be responsible for guarding Harrison, one of the most dynamic scoring threats in the Big East, and one of the frontrunners for Big East POY. For St. John's I think a major key is finding a way to score efficiently against a pretty good Villanova defense that at times can be lockdown. Look for Harrison to shoot early and often in order to try and find an answer to the Wildcats' defense. If he's off early, it could be a long night for the Red Storm.
BN: Sir'Dominic Pointer must have a big game tonight for St. John's. In their first two Big East games against Seton Hall and Butler, Pointer only had four and nine points respectively. D'Angelo Harrison had monstrous outings in each game, but they'll need someone to step up on the big stage tonight in order to compete with this talented Villanova squad. For Villanova, Dylan Ennis is going to need a big game defensively. If Ennis can help shut down D'Angelo Harrison, who has averaged 28 points in the last two games, it's going to be a long night for the Red Storm, who have had trouble to get scoring elsewhere in their last couple of matchups.
How big of an impact will the return of Rysheed Jordan have for St. John's?
AJB: Rysheed Jordan is a major factor for SJU tonight. They will need his offense almost as much as they will need his defense. At 6'4, 190, Jordan's ability to match up with Darrun Hilliard, Josh Hart and Dylan Ennis will be something that the Johnnies lean on and something that keeps this game tight. Without him, Jamal Branch would have too much to handle and would not be as effective. With him, they have the ability to match up well with Villanova at every spot through the starting 5.
EK: How big of a factor his return will be depends on what his mindset is coming back from this absence. I think an important question will be whether or not he is mentally ready to come back to play in this huge game after losing a family member. Especially as a young player, this traumatic incident could still be in the back of his mind, and his focus may not entirely be on the game of basketball, and I wouldn't blame him. If he can get his mind right for this one though, I think he can be a huge difference maker for St. John's because he can stretch the floor and he adds another offensive weapon to the Red Storm arsenal.
BN: If anything at all, Rysheed Jordan brings needed depth to a Red Storm team that really has no depth at all. Six players average more than 20 minutes a game. The next player? Christian Jones, who averages only 7 minutes per game. So having Jordan back already makes a big impact. If he can live up to his season average of 14 points per game, it will do wonders for a St. John's team who can use all the scoring they can get.
Who wins the game and why?
AJB: Call me a homer, but I just can't see the ‘Cat's losing two in a row. Jay Wright has only lost once ever in the Garden against the Johnnies. That's a streak I see continuing. The Wildcats are going to come out fierce, hopefully with exponentially more intensity than they did against the Hall. This game is going to be a classic Big East slobberknocker. The Wildcats desperately want to avoid losing two in a row while St. John's is facing a three game slide if they lose this one. It will be the savy of Villanova's veterans and balance against the tough and athletic Johnnies, and it will be a spectacle. If you're not watching this game between two hungry teams, you're cheating yourself. Villanova 71, St. John's 67.
EK: I like the Wildcats in this one as well, and like Adam I just cannot see Villanova losing two games in a row, because it didn't happen last season and I don't see it happening this season either. For me, I just think the Wildcats' have too many weapons and if they can force other guys not named D'Angelo Harrison to beat them, I think it'll make things much easier for the ‘Cats. Either way, this is a matchup of two teams looking to bounce back from tough losses, and I think Nova prevails by single digits. Villanova 75, St. John's 68
BN: I live closer to Villanova. Therefore Villanova wins no matter the final score.
In all seriousness though, this is going to be a damn good game to watch, whether a fan of Villanova, St. John's, or basketball period. Though St. John's should come out desperate, we've seen the Red Storm disappoint before. And if they don't turn out a balanced scoring attack, something Villanova certainly will provide, they'll be in trouble. The Wildcats are capable defensively to shut down D'Angelo Harrison, and with the rest of the lineup struggling, it would prove disastrous for St. John's. But with both teams in desperation mode, this game will be extremely close. However, the Wildcats are able to weather the Red Storm and win by single digits. Villanova 79 St. John's 72