St. John's-Villanova Preview
After smoothly handling its first test as the nation's No. 1 team, Villanova appears headed for an extended stay atop the rankings.
The Wildcats return to the Wells Fargo Center as a prohibitive favorite in Saturday night's game against a St. John's team making history of a different kind in Chris Mullin's first season.
Taking the court atop the AP Top 25 for the first time, Villanova (21-3, 11-1 Big East) didn't disappoint in Tuesday's 86-59 rout at DePaul. The Wildcats recorded 19 points off 19 turnovers and outscored the Blue Demons 36-16 in the paint in a game they led handily throughout.
"I was really interested to see how we came out," coach Jay Wright said. "We did a good job in all of the meetings and I thought we came out very focused. I was impressed. I'm pleased with their maturity but I can't say I'm surprised."
The Wildcats have displayed noticeable determination since having their 22-game Big East winning streak end with an 82-76 overtime loss to then-No. 16 Providence Jan. 24 in Philadelphia. They've since outscored opponents by an average of 19.8 points in four consecutive double-digit victories, including a 72-60 win in last Saturday's rematch with the Friars.
That strong stretch began with a 68-53 win over the Red Storm at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 31, one of a school-record 15 consecutive losses for St. John's (7-18, 0-12). The rebuilding Red Storm haven't won since upsetting Syracuse 84-72 at the Garden on Dec. 13.
St. John's, which lost its top six scorers from last season's 21-win NCAA Tournament team, seemed to be making strides by playing current No. 5 Xavier tough in a 90-83 road defeat last week. It's followed by losing to Butler and Georgetown by a combined 58 points, however, and is allowing 90.3 per game over its last three.
The Hoyas shot 54.2 percent in Monday's 92-67 rout, two days after Butler went 12 of 25 from 3-point range in an 89-56 win.
"They (Georgetown) have a nice offense but, from my standpoint, (it was) way too easy," Mullin said. "More like a 5-on-0 offense. Too easy, too comfortable and no resistance."
Turnovers also remain an ongoing issue for Mullin's young squad. They had 21 against Butler and 21 in the recent meeting with the Wildcats, who scored 18 points off those miscues to offset a 36.2 percent shooting night.
The Red Storm also were outrebounded by a 48-35 margin despite Villanova missing Daniel Ochefu, a matchup problem for St. John's in the past, due to a concussion. The senior center returned from a three-game absence to score 11 points in 24 minutes against DePaul.
Ochefu went 6 of 7 from the field in a 13-point, 13-rebound effort in the Wildcats' 90-72 win at Madison Square Garden last season, then amassed 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting in last March's 105-68 victory over St. John's in Philadelphia.
Darryl Reynolds has filled in well for Ochefu, scoring a career-high 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting in the Providence win and averaging 9.7 rebounds over the last three games.
St. John's will have leading rebounder Yankuba Sima back after missing the teams' last matchup with a broken left hand.
The Red Storm's last win over a No. 1 team came during Mullin's senior season, a 66-65 victory at Georgetown on Jan. 26, 1985. They've lost nine straight against top-ranked opponents.