#6 Villanova Wildcats (17-3) vs. St. John’s Red Storm (7-14)
When: Sunday, January 31, 2016 at 12 p.m.
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York , N.Y.
St. John’s Previous Season Record: 21-12, Lost in Round of 64 in NCAA Tournament to San Diego State
Key Players: #4 Federico Mussini (6-1, 160) Fr., F; #5 Durand Johnson (6-6, 210) Sr., F; #24 Ron Mvouika (6-6, 210) Sr., F
Scouting Report: NBA Hall of Famer and St John’s coach, Chris Mullin, knew he had the tough task of jumpstarting his alma mater’s program. St. John’s had flamed out at the end of last year and limped into the tournament as a nine seed. After getting their clock cleaned by Villanova and Providence, the Red Storm looked uninterested going into the Big Dance and suffered a defeat in the Round of 64. While former St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin had built a formidable squad, the Johnnies looked more like a bunch of great individual parts than a cohesive team. As a result, Lavin was axed and Mullin took over in hopes to fix the problem. A flood of transfers and graduations made the task for Mullin even more immense. He must be waiting anxiously to get his shot to recruit and bring in talent.
Unfortunately for Mullin and crew, the efforts to instill St. John’s old winning ways have failed miserably. The Johnnies have yet to win a Big East game and are currently mired in an 11 game losing streak. St. John’s ill-fated streak started in mid-December when the Red Storm were unable to beat Division I newcomers Incarnate Word and has stretched all the way to this past Wednesday in a loss in to Seton Hall.
Looking to the buck the trend is freshman standout Federico Mussini. The Italian born prospect is leading the Red Storm with exactly 13 points a game. Coming in second for the Johnnies scoring lead is redshirt senior Durand Johnson. Johnson is averaging 12.1 points and just over four boards a game. Together, Mussini and Johnson combine for 37.5% of St. Johns total points on the year. They are obviously the catalysts for a depleted and thin Red Storm roster. As a team, the Jonhnies shoot just 32.6% from deep and suffer from a negative rebound differential. The contributing factor to the rebound differential is the injury is Yankuba Sima who leads St. John’s in rebounds with 6.8 boards a game. Making up for the injury is redshirt senior Ron Myouika and Christian Jones who contribute four and five and a quarter boards a game.
Outlook: To say that St. John’s is an underdog would be an understatement. The Johnnies are currently last in the Big East, while Villanova is the obvious favorite and headliner of the conference. The Red Storm have yet to win a Big East game. Despite the talent disparity, Villanova holds the edge historically. The Wildcats have not lost to the Red Storm since February of 2011 in a game played at the Pavilion.
Something to keep your eye on is that Villanova has not played since its heartbreaking overtime loss to Providence last Sunday. Logic suggests that the Wildcats will be well rested; however, it is just as likely that the team may be rusty. This could potentially alter play in the beginning portions of the game. If Jay Wright and his team fail to get their game legs under them, Villanova might not be able to control the game as well as they would like.
Even though this game is being played in the Mecca of basketball, I think the Wildcats will come out guns blazing. Having come off the tough loss against Providence, this is the type of no nonsense game where Villanova will impose their will and attempt to coast to victory. Jay Wright has had success in this building over the past few years, especially during the Big East tournament last year. Even though they did not play St. John’s, Villanova won the necessary three games in Madison Square Garden to capture their first Big East Tournament victory since 1995. Look for Josh Hart to continue his hot streak during the season and at MSG to help the Wildcats win by double digits.