Coming off of the loss to Connecticut, everything that seemed to be looking up is looking down again. St. John’s had won two straight in league play and at 2-3, were entertaining thoughts of knocking off a few teams and moving up in the standings. But this year, the Big East is as tough as ever. The improvements in the Red Storm aren’t catching up, so far, to the improvements in the rest of the league. At 2-4, the Johnnies are tied with Seton Hall and Marquette, and hoping to make a splash with tough upcoming games against league leaders Villanova and Marquette.
Meanwhile, Villanova eviscerated the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, dropping 94 points on 66 shots. The Wildcats are truly deep and are able to get contribution from the second wave of bench players. The guards are the main scorers, led by Scottie Reynolds and two Coreys, and they score efficiently outside the paint and from the free throw line. The team also rebounds well on both ends and draws fouls. The one flaw seems to be on defense, where the team has allowed Big East teams to shoot well from beyond the arc and draw a LOT of shooting fouls. The rebounding has been good but not elite.
Tip Off: 12:00 PM, Saturday, January 22
Location: Madison Square Garden
Radio: Bloomberg 1130/ WSJU
Villanova (17-1, 6-0)
10 G Corey Fisher JR 6’1 185: 12.8 ppg* 3.2 rpg* 4.3 apg* 1.5 spg
24 G Corey Stokes JR 6’5 230: 10 ppg* 4.4 rpg* 90.3% FT
15 G-F Reggie Redding SR 6’5 205: 10 ppg* 6 rpg* 3 apg
0 F Antonio Pena JR 6’8 235: 10.8 ppg* 7.7 rpg* 57.1% FG
31 F Taylor King SO 6’6 230: 21.8 mpg* 10.2 ppg* 6.3 rpg* 44.6% 3Pt
5 PG Maalik Wayns FR 6’1 185: 16.8 mpg* 8.2 ppg* 1.5 apg
23 G Dominic Cheek FR 6’6 185: 15.6 mpg* 5.6 ppg* 2.9 rpg
13 F Mouphtaou Yarou JR 6’9 215: 14 mpg* 3.7 ppg* 3.6 rpg
For Villanova, I contacted 3 Wildcat Bloggers and asked some questions. I’ll present three answers – one detailing the weak links, one detailing the rotation, and one answering the question, are they that good?
Defensively, who is the best Wildcat player? Who are the weak links?
Expect to see Reggie Redding on D.J. Kennedy. Redding typically drew the toughest assignments last season, and that most likely won’t change for Saturday since Reggie is within an inch and 10 pounds of Kennedy. A surprise this season is the development of Corey Stokes. While his shot has not come around (maybe that changed with his performance against Rutgers), Stokes has drawn a lot of minutes, due I suspect, to his improved defense.
The Wildcats have three players who can man the low post, but only Antonio Pena’s experience extends farther back than November of this season. Maurice Sutton brings a lot of energy, but at 215 pounds he is too easily moved around. At 6-10 and 250 pounds Mouphtaou Yarou has the right dimensions, but as a freshman who was sidelined for nearly six weeks at the beginning of the season, he tends to bite on fakes and is subject to brain freezes when put on a (relatively) skilled offensive counterpart. Long term he will be very good, but right now he is on the up slope of the learning curve. Pena is a serviceable big. In the preseason I wrote that he was most crucial to Villanova’s success this season. He does not have to be “breakout good”, serviceable is good enough. For Antonio, a helping of confidence would go a long way. Defensive rebounding has been inconsistent, but generally good. They tend to struggle against teams with good offensive rebounders.
From I Bleed Blue and White:
Villanova’s 16-1, with an elite offense and a high ranking… are they really the #4 team in the country? Is this level of play sustainable? Can they be better?
Last week, I was telling other bloggers that we probably weren’t the #4 team in the country, but we had the potential to be. But looking at how we’ve started out our conference grind (in by far the toughest in the country), it’s hard to argue that we aren’t. Texas and Kansas probably aren’t as much better than everyone else than everyone was saying, and Kentucky is certainly VERY beatable.
While we haven’t seen the likes of Syracuse, Pitt and West Virigina yet, we haven’t had a cakewalk either. Two wins over a scrappy Marquette bunch and solid wins over Louisville and Georgetown are making me believe this team is starting to finally arrive.
Nobody is saying we’ll go undefeated in conference – that’s just stupid. We’ll lose at least twice and more than likely as many as 4-5. The conference is THAT tough. But I do think we can get better. Having a rotation of 11 guys, and having all of them eager to earn minutes, has developed that hustle/competition within the team that great teams have. Who knows if the freshman can step up enough for a title run, but the will and desire is certainly there.
Villanova Viewpoint, with a look at the rotation:
Wright is comfortable with a ten-man rotation, sometimes eleven, if you count Sutton, so we’re really deep and we substitute a lot. Wright likes to try some traps and 3/4 court pressure. The depth also helps, because we can afford to risk some foul trouble.
If we get a substantial lead in the second half, it’s often difficult for an opponent, because we have three point guards that we can trust with the ball (Reynolds, junior Corey Fisher, and freshman Maalik Wayns), and nearly every player (especially the point guards) are good foul shooters. (Wayns is the fastest guard we have, and is often the fastest player on the court, and he’s a real spark off the bench.)
Reynolds isn’t a true point, he’s a combo guard, Fisher and Wayns (especially) are true point guards, although Fisher can play the “two” if necessary.
Redding, a senior, is primarily a defender and rebounder, who isn’t expected to score, since Villanova has so many other weapons. But he is capable of filling it up. This year, despite missing a full semester, he’s averaging 10 points per contest, the best of his career.
Corey Stokes, a junior, is known as the Bayonne Bomber, due to his accuracy and hometown. Stokes’ specialty is perimeter shooting.
Of the two freshman wings, I discussed Armwood earlier. Dominic Cheek is another valuable bench player. He only averages 15.6 mins per game, but he had a career-high of 17 points against Rutgers on Wednesday.
The X-factor in any Villanova contest is the 6-6 wingman Taylor King. He”s playing as a sophomore, after playing at Duke as a freshman and sitting out a transfer year last year. King is fast enough to create mismatches at the four position, as a lot of “fours” can’t cover him, and King can also play more than one position, so that creates defensive mismatches, also. He also is a good rebounder and has a knack for diving for loose balls (if you see a pileup on the floor, odds are King either caused it or is right in the middle of it.)
We only have three big men. One is Antonio Pena, who is really a “four” – he’s a big guy but not as tall of a big man as you’d like to have. He came off the bench last year, and he’s really improved as an offensive player in the low post, passing the ball in transition to a speedy guard, and can rebound really well. His big weakness is foul trouble.
Another is Mouph (Mouphtaou Yarou – but everyone just calls him Mouph), a freshman. He has a lot of potential, but he missed six weeks (between Puerto Rico, through Jan. 2) due to contracting hepatitis. He’s been back for a couple of weeks now, but he’s really a 15-minute player. He’s a decent defender and rebounder, but not a scoring threat.
The third is Maurice Sutton, a redshirt freshman. He’s now the last scholarship player in the rotation. Although he played a great deal in calendar 2009 (especially during the time when Mouph was out) he hasn’t played much recently. His main role is to defend and absorb five fouls that we can’t afford to have Pena or Mouph commit). Nowadays, Sutton plays, generally, only if the game is out of reach, or if Pena and/or Mouph are in foul trouble. We had a 20+ point lead over Rutgers for most of the second half last night and Sutton only got six minutes.
All that having been said, we’re far from invincible. In the Temple loss, we permitted the Owls to shoot 54% from the floor, 50% from beyond the arc. Free throws are a big part of our offense, and we only took 11 free throws (although we made nine). And they absolutely destroyed us on the boards, 32-24.
St. John’s (12-6, 2-4)
3 PG Malik Boothe JR 5’9 188: 4.5 ppg* 2.2 apg
23 G Paris Horne JR 6’3 191: 8.4 ppg* 3.1 rpg* 38.7% 3PT
1 G-F DJ Kennedy JR 6’5 215: 15.6 ppg* 6.6 rpg* 3.4 apg* 36.9% 3PT
32 F Justin Brownlee JR 6′7 232: 7.8 ppg* 5.9 rpg* 1 spg
5 F Sean Evans JR 6’8 255: 6.8 ppg* 6.4 rpg
12 G Dwight Hardy JR 6′2 187: 22.7 mpg* 11.4 ppg* 49.6% 3PT
24 F Justin Burrell JR 6’8 235: 17.8 mpg* 5 ppg* 2.7 rpg* 50% FG
15 F-C Dele Coker JR 6’10 252: 10.9 mpg* 2.4 ppg* 2.1 rpg* 1.3 bpg* 65.5% FG
31 PG Malik Stith FR 5’11 185: 12.4 mpg* 2.2 ppg* 1.4 apg
2 G-F Anthony Mason Jr. SR 6’7 210: 17.3 mpg* 5 ppg* 4.3 rpg
The starting lineup assumes the team will go smaller, though they might start Anthony Mason Jr., who was more like his old self against Connecticut.
Despite what some might think, this team is improved. “Improved” is a far cry from “contending”, however, and the fans are upset about not contending. Rightfully so; 6 years, with any extra leniency for the moral high ground and better relationships with AAU players, is a long time for fans to watch a team struggle to get near .500 on the season. And coming off another loss where the Red Storm seemed to have a chance, and once again lose it in a flurry of poor play, defensive breakdowns, and the usual scoring drought… things aren’t going well.
St. John’s has a lot of depth – and now Anthony Mason Jr. is back. So 10 guys will see court time in most games. The team’s point guards are not scorers; the points come generally from a plethora of wing players.
The closest thing to an alpha dog player for St. John’s is DJ Kennedy, who will go to the basket in crucial midgame situations; his jump shot is vastly improved, his drives are crafty, and his rebounding is solid. At the end of games, Dwight Hardy has been the guy; he can drive and shoot the 3-pointer. Against smaller teams, Justin Brownlee and Sean Evans are solid rebounders and can score off the dribble… or make mistakes off the dribble. Paris Horne is a scoring threat from the outside; when he drives to the hoop he never seems to get the call. Justin Burrell has been more aggressive in looking for his shot. Anthony Mason Jr. hasn’t been crisp with the jump shot yet, but contributes with rebounding and length on defense.
Keys to the Game
Control. St. John’s lost control of last year’s game in Philadelphia with turnovers, bad passes, and poor ballhandling. There was no flow to the St. John’s attack, and the Wildcats cruised to a win. With the two Maliks in the fold, the team should be better at getting into their offense, but St. John’s needs to make sure to minimize the turnovers.
At Least Slow Them Down. It’s a lot to ask for a real crushing defensive effort, but St. John’s has to at least slow them down – keep the Wildcats from running all over the place. Getting the hands up on defense and altering 3-point shots from Villanova will help the team get closer to a chance at the win.
Rebound. The Wildcats are dangerous, and the defensive rebounders have to minimize their second chances. Against a smaller team, St. John’s needs to be physical in the paint and get to those balls.
Drive Aggressively. Villanova has tended to foul opponents a lot. St. John’s has to deploy the drives of DJ Kennedy, the energy of Justin Burrell, and aggressive driving when the opportunity arises.
Shoot. The Red Storm needs to shoot effectively from the 3-point arc and from the line when they have a chance.
Prediction: St. John’s puts up a good effort but loses. 76-65, Villanova.
Transplanted New Yorker and now Midwesterner Peter a/k/a Pico writes for the East Coast Bias and the Church of Bracketology and for Johnny Jungle, doing the Calm Before the Storm posts. Pico is also on Twitter, @ECoastBias.