#8 Villanova Wildcats (13-1) vs. #24 St. John’s Red Storm (11-3)
When: Tuesday, January 6, 2015, at 9 p.m.
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Coverage: Fox Sports 1
St. John’s Previous Season Record: 20-13, Lost to Robert Morris in Opening Round of NIT
Key Players for St. John’s: #11 D’Angelo Harrison (6-4, 204) Sr., G; #23 Rysheed Jordan (6-4, 185) So., G; #12 Chris Obekpa (6-10, 240) Jr., F/C
Scouting Report: What a difference a week makes. St. John’s was rolling, boasting an 11-1 record and moving up to #15 in the AP Polls. After losing to Seton Hall on the road, the Red Storm failed to bounce back. They were unable to defend their home court from Butler, despite a 31 point game by D’Angelo Harrison. Since he first put on his jersey for St. John’s, Harrison has been the leading scorer in each of his four years on the team and he has gotten better with age. His 20.3 points per game is second best in the Big East and good enough to land him amongst the top 15 scorers in the NCAA. Harrison is a lethal scorer, who can knock down shots through a variety of ways. He can go inside or score from the outside, anything to frustrate his opposition and get the job done. He’s also a solid rebounder, with 6.2 boards per game. On defense, his athleticism and speed helps him out on this side of the ball as much as it does on the other. He’s a perfect fit for coach Steve Lavin‘s system, but the star player can’t do it alone. Rysheed Jordan is expected to come back tomorrow night, after taking a mysterious, sudden leave of absence for personal reasons. Jordan was reported to have met with Lavin and will be returning to play. They missed him in the Butler game, as the frustrating loss called for the need of their second-highest scorer. Last season, he made some noise in conference play as a freshman. This season, he started the year off great. He scored at least 15 points in the first five games of the season, he has since calmed down, but St. John’s scoring struggles emerged with his absence in the Butler game. Jordan is averaging 14 points per game, but has a hard time making free throws. He has only made 58.8% of his attempts. The front court is anchored by Chris Obekpa. During the offseason, he opted to transfer out of St. John’s. He later changed his mind and since then, the Red Storm have been very thankful and pleased with his play. Obekpa has shown improvement when it comes to scoring in the paint. His 7.6 points per game is much improved from last year’s mediocre average of 3.8. However, he has always been known for his defensive prowess. Obekpa has a whopping 3.9 blocks per game, second highest in the NCAA and the best in the Big East. He polices the paint and does an excellent job of keeping opponents out. He’s also a solid rebounder, with a team-high 8.4 boards per game. Helping him out inside is Sir’Dominic Pointer. Pointer took the backseat to JaKarr Sampson, who was an excellent forward for St. John’s before leaving early for the NBA Draft. While Pointer may not be as good as Sampson, he has produced in his much bigger role. He had a 24 point game vs. Tulane, but has been kept quiet ever since. Pointer can score if he finds his rhythm, with 10.8 points per game. He creates mismatches for opposing defenses. While he has played as a four, he can stretch defenses out as a three or even as a guard. This versatility can cause some problems for opponents and help him out at the same time. Also, keep an eye out for Phil Greene IV. Greene IV is a dependable guard, who has been the only source of scoring outside of Harrison in the last two games. He has been second to Harrison in both games. He’s capable of knocking shots down from long range from time-to-time.
Outlook: Last season, St. John’s didn’t give Villanova any easy wins. Both games came down to the wire. The first game at the Garden was close until a late Villanova run doomed St. John’s. The second took place at the Wells Fargo Center, where it came down to closing seconds. The Red Storm is excellent defensively and they use that to their advantage, getting stops and turnovers that they convert into scoring opportunities. St. John’s has a number of athletic players and it helps them out on defense, more so than it does offensively. The Butler game showed that they have a hard time on offense, despite having one of the top scorers in college basketball. In their most recent losses, they were simply outplayed by Seton Hall and couldn’t come up with the offensive firepower to keep up with Butler. If the shots aren’t falling for Villanova or if they start off slowly, they will find themselves in trouble. However, the Wildcats have serious depth to come and aid them, something St. John’s does not have. The Red Storm use a true six man rotation. When Jordan was out, they stuck with their starting lineup. Sure, they use other guys, but those players only come in for a few minutes to give starters a quick breather. Not only did St. John’s not put up the points to keep up with Butler, but as the game progressed, they looked more and more exhausted. With Jordan back, St. John’s is a lot better than with him out. They can go back to a true six man rotation, instead of having two out of five guys play all 40 minutes. Villanova has to use this depth to their advantage and wear these guys out. Shots have to fall, this tough defense is going to work the Wildcats. Every point will be earned. Also, they will have to contain D’Angelo Harrison and force St. John’s to send the ball elsewhere. It will be interesting to see how both teams will match up in the post, JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu vs. Chris Obekpa and company. Both teams are looking to get back on track, it’s going to be a hard fought game.