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Big East Tournament Preview: #8 St. John’s Red Storm

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-Red Storm Athletics

#1 Villanova Wildcats (28-3) vs. #8 St. John’s Red Storm (14-18)
When: Thursday, March 9, 2017, at 11:30 a.m.
Where: Madison Square Garden, N.Y.
Coverage: Fox Sports 1
KenPom Prediction: 84-68, Villanova (94%)
Results of Previous Meetings:
– Villanova won 70-57 at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 14
– Villanova won 92-79 at home on Feb. 4
How The Red Storm Got Here: Beat Georgetown, 74-73, in the Opening Round
Key Players for St. John’s: #2 Shamorie Ponds (6-1, 170) Fr., G; #15 Marcus LoVett (6-0, 175) Fr. G; #1 Bashir Ahmed (6-7, 210) Jr., G.

Scouting Report St. John’s is ready to prove everyone wrong. In the 74-73 victory over Georgetown, the young team exhibited some tournament nerves, but by game’s end may have gotten into the swing of things. Had Georgetown made two more free throws or made either of their last minute shots, the Red Storm would have lost, so they might still be a little shaken up this morning. In the first round game, All-Big East Freshman Teamer and the program’s highest scoring freshman of all time, Shamorie Ponds, played excellently, putting up 17 points and 5 rebounds. The Brooklyn native undoubtedly feels at home in the Garden, a venue that St. John’s gets to play in several times each year – much like ‘Nova with the Wells Fargo Center.

Bashir Ahmed added 14 points, 5 rebounds and a pair of assists. The junior isn’t always given a whole lot of recognition with the youngsters around him, but he definitely knows how to play the game, and could cause us some trouble if we underestimate him. Ahmed is a solid third option for the Johnnies. He is savvy at getting to the free throw line, averaging within the top ten in terms of fouls drawn per game.

The team’s other stellar freshmanMarcus LoVett–was kept to a quiet four points off 2-of-9 shooting, so look for him to be putting up bigger numbers and making more of an impact. LoVett usually averages 16.4 points per game, and last time he played against Villanova scored 23 points. It might have been that getting in foul trouble stopped him from getting into a usual rhythm.

He and Ponds are a dangerous tandem, enough to have gotten credit for being one of the best young backcourts in all of college basketball. Some have even said they are as good as the second-best one-two backcourt punch, right behind the projected one-and-done talents from Kentucky. Together, they average almost 34 points a game together, making them a formidable tandem.

Although right at the end (more than a few times) it looked like Georgetown could sneak away with the W, St. John’s was finally able to silence the jeers and taunts to capture its first Big East Tournament win in six years.

The team is coached by Hall of Famer Chris Mullin, a Big East legend. He was notoriously a nightmare for Villanova to guard, and last night put up a fight on the court – even from the sidelines. Slowly but surely, the Red Storm saw some improvement this year, after a turbulent first season as the team’s head coach.

Outlook: While it’s basically a home game for the Johnnies, an upset is unlikely, but not impossible. The Red Storm’s backcourt is the real deal, and its youth and energy results in an uptempo style, where they get out and fire in transition.

If it’s a close game recent returnee Darryl Reynolds may need to play more minutes than Villanova’s coach  Jay Wright would want to use him for, as Dylan Painter–who has been improving and providing some quality relief minutes–may not be a good option against a St. John’s blitzkrieg. Aside from Reynolds’ experience, the bruiser will be needed to deal with St. John’s defensive anchors: Tariq Owens and Kassoum Yakwe, the two top shot-blockers in the conference.

As big and talented Owens and Yakwe may be defensively, they aren’t great rebounders. In the previous meeting, a smaller Villanova outrebounded St. John’s, 40-26. In fact, as one of the worst rebounding teams in the country, this is an area the Wildcats will want to dominate in–capitalize on winning the boards and translating on second-chance opportunities.

The Wildcats enter this game after beating the Johnnies in each of their 14 previous meetings. I expect the Wildcats to extend that record to 15, and I see Donte Divincenzo  having another big game. The redshirt freshman likes playing St. John’s, scoring 19 and 20 points, respectively, against the Red Storm.

Also, expect all eyes to be on Josh Hart, who was recently dubbed Big East Player of the Year. The pressure will be on him to deliver as the stakes rise even higher.

Will the senior leadership and expertise be enough to earn the ‘Cats a second game in the tournament? Or will St. John’s excitement, home crowd and energy bring them an upset this morning?

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About The Author

Eugene Rapay '16 created "The Bench Mob" in November 2013. He joined the Villanova Times in 2012 as a writer. A Westchester, NY native, who will bring top quality coverage of all things Villanova sports.

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