St. John's (8-4) at Villanova (9-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Wednesday, January 2, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: The Pavilion (6,500) -- Villanova, Pennsylvania. Television: ESPNU. Home Record: St. John's 7-1, Villanova 5-2. Away Record: St. John's 1-1, Villanova 3-1. Neutral Record: St. John's 0-2, Villanova 1-1. Conference Record: St. John's 0-0, Villanova 0-0. Series Record: St. John's leads, 60-45.
GAME NOTES: Embarking on one their final seasons competing against each other in the current version of the Big East Conference, the St. John's Red Storm and Villanova Wildcats meet on the Main Line on Wednesday night.
Both teams are part of a group dubbed "The Catholic 7" (Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, Marquette and DePaul being the others), and it was recently announced that all of them will be leaving the Big East to form another league, along with other schools to be determined, to hopefully restore the competitive balance (in men's basketball) the Big East used to possess. That endeavor is slated to officially begin operation on June 30, 2015.
St. John's has won twice as many games as its has lost this season (8-4), and coach Steve Lavin's young club recently had a modest two-game win streak stopped with a 72-65 loss at home to UNC Asheville. That game was played on Dec. 21, which means the Red Storm should be well-rested for the league lid-lifter. Lavin's record in conference openers is 7-2, which includes a 91-67 win over Providence last season, his second in charge of the St. John's men's basketball program.
As for Jay Wright's Villanova squad, it comes into this contest sporting a 9-4 record, and the Wildcats are in the midst of a five-game win streak. The current run is important in that it came on the heels of four losses in five games, and gives the team a head of steam as it looks ahead to the Big East portion of its schedule. VU's most recent triumph came on Dec. 28 in a 70-60 decision against visiting NJIT, improving the 'Cats record at home this season to 5-2.
St. John's owns a 60-45 lead in the all-time series with Villanova, which is its longest-running adversary. The teams have split the last two meetings, with the Wildcats prevailing in the most recent, 79-76, in overtime at Madison Square Garden last January.
St. John's led by double digits in the second half of its recent clash with UNC Asheville, but the Bulldogs went on 23-4 run as they rallied to top the Red Storm at Carnesecca Arena. Jeremy Atkinson did his best to help the home team prevail, but even his career-high 31 points wasn't enough. D'Angelo Harrison poured in 24 points, while JaKarr Sampson tacked on 17 and Chris Obekpa grabbed eight rebounds and blocked six shots. St. John's shot just 36.4 percent from the field after intermission, while the Bulldogs were up closer to 50 percent (.484). UNCA won the rebounding battle (40-30), and scored 44 points in the paint compared to 28 for the Red Storm. Harrison is having an exceptional year, his 20.9 ppg ranking second in the conference behind Providence's Bryce Cotton (22.0 ppg). Sampson (14.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and Phil Greene IV (10.0 ppg, 3.4 apg) are the only other double-digit scorers for St. John's, which averages 70.1 ppg while permitting 65.9 ppg.
Villanova had a miserable shooting night last Friday against NJIT, hitting a mere 30.8 percent of its field goal attempts, which included a woeful 5-of-27 effort from beyond the arc. Still, the Wildcats came out on top thanks in large part to a 25-8 edge in points from the foul line coupled with the fact that the Highlanders made good on only 38.3 percent of their total shots while committing 19 turnovers. VU was guilty of only eight giveaways. Ryan Arcidiacono led the 'Cats with 17 points, 12 of which came on his four 3- pointers. Darrun Hilliard added 12 points despite missing all six of his long- range launches, and JayVaughn Pinkston and Maurice Sutton finished with 10 points apiece. For the season, 'Nova averages 70.5 ppg while allowing 66.2 ppg, and the team is shooting roughly the same percentages as its opponents (.410 overall, .350 3-point range), but it does possess a +4.1 rebounding margin. Pinkston leads the team in scoring, but his 12.2 ppg aren't going to scare anyone, and Arcidiacono and Bell are close behind with 11.5 and 10.7 ppg, respectively.
These two teams are pretty even in terms of talent and production, so expect a nick-and-tuck affair. The Wildcats get the edge playing at home.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Villanova 70, St. John's 66
01/02 10:31:14 ET