MBB Preview: Wildcats set to face St. John’s at MSG and West Virginia in Pavilion

Michael Zipf

The Streak Ends

After enduring their longest losing streak in nearly two-and-a-half years, the Villanova Wildcats captured a 72-70 victory over Seton Hall on a game-winning 3-point basket by junior swingman Dwayne Anderson. During their five-game losing streak, the Wildcats surrendered 80.6 points per game with teams shooting an average of 50.8 percent from the field during their five-game skid. However, during the second half against Seton Hall Saturday, the Wildcats held the Pirates to 28.1 percent shooting. The 43-41 halftime edge the ‘Cats held on Saturday night represented another change of pace; it was the first time in eight games that Villanova held a lead entering halftime.

Weathering the Storm

St. John’s, which ranks in the bottom tier of a deep and competitive Big East Conference, actually possesses more talent than its 10-12 record and 4-7 record in the Big East indicate. After failing to qualify for the NCAA tournament for six straight seasons, Norm Roberts and the St. John’s faithful secretly believed that this veteran-laden team could possibly sneak into the tournament this season. However, the Johnnies have endured a season marked by inconsistency. With three straight victories over South Florida, Rutgers and Providence, St. John’s carries some much needed momentum into this matchup. During their last three matchups, the Red Storm has been defeated by the Wildcats by an average margin of 12 points per game.

The Red Storm is led by junior forward Anthony Mason Jr. who enters the matchup averaging 13.5 points per game. Joining Mason in the frontcourt is freshman Justin Burrell, who is enjoying a stellar freshman campaign, averaging close to 13 points and seven rebounds per game. Mason, at 6 feet 7 inches, is a versatile small forward who attacks the basket and is unafraid to display his improved outside jumper. Entering the matchup, Mason is shooting a respectable 37.3 percent from 3-point range. With the Wildcat defense ranking among the worst in the Big East in 3-point field goal defense, expect Mason and sophomore guard Larry Wright, who leads in 3-point shooting at 39 percent per game, to attack the perimeter of the Wildcat defense. However, the Red Storm’s game play is predicated on its ability to attack the basket. Senior guard Eugene Lawrence provides Roberts with an experienced and heady point guard who serves as the facilitator in the Red Storm attack.

Offensively, Villanova should be able to exploit a mediocre Red Storm defensive attack. Ultimately, the success of the Wildcats’ attack lies on their ability to rebound. Interestingly, Villanova is 10-2 when it out rebounds its opponents, as opposed to 4-6 when the opponent earns an advantage on the glass.

The increased playing time and performance from quad-captain Anderson has provided the Wildcats with an energized spark. Earning his first start during his 54-game career, Anderson provided the Wildcats with a captivating performance, scoring 13 points, grabbing eight rebounds and collecting three steals against Seton Hall. Anderson’s deft leaping ability, solid rebounding and long-range shooting provides the Wildcats with a solid option at the small forward position.

Freshman Corey Fisher continues to show flashes of brilliance during his freshman campaign. Second in scoring behind sophomore guard Scottie Reynolds, Fisher provides ‘Nova with an elusive guard who will attack the St. John’s defense. Fisher’s ability to knock down the outside jumper and distribute the basketball to his teammates will be critical to Villanova’s success. Ultimately, expect the Wildcat offense to play with more consistency this game, which should lead to an important Big East victory.

Villanova 75, St. John’s 67.

Huggins enters the Pavilion

In recent history, West Virginia has proven to be a difficult foe for the ‘Cats. In 2005, West Virginia upended ‘Nova’s 11-game winning steak. In January of 2007, the Mountaineers earned a decisive 67-56 victory in Morgantown.

With alum Bob Huggins at the helm this season, West Virginia has experienced a significant improvement in its overall team defense. As a perimeter-oriented team at heart, the Mountaineers are still among the top teams in 3-point field goals attempted and made. With four players shooting 39 percent or better from beyond the arc, expect the Mountaineers to attack a Wildcat defense that has been extremely susceptible to the 3-point shot.

West Virginia is led by a pair of juniors, Joe Alexander and Alex Ruoff. At 6 feet 8 inches and 6 feet 6 inches, respectively, Alexander and Ruoff provide Huggins with versatile players who are able to create their own shots. Expect Anderson, whose defense has propelled him into the Wildcats’ starting lineup, to try and contain Ruoff, who is a dangerous outside shooter.

Dante Cunningham, a versatile defender, should earn the defense responsibilities on Alexander. The lone holdover from West Virginia’s Elite Eight and Sweet 16 teams is senior guard Darris Nichols. A deft and quick point guard, Nichols provides the Mountaineers with an effective ball handler and distributor. Yet, the X-factor for the Mountaineers could be sophomore forward Da’Sean Butler, whose ability to attack the basket and hit the outside jumper could cause troubles for the Wildcat defense.

On the offensive end, expect the Wildcats to attack the Mountaineers frontcourt. The reemergence of sophomore center Cassiem Drummond has provided the Wildcats with a solid interior option. As a result, Villanova’s rebounding has steadily progressed, and the workload placed on junior Dante Cunningham and sophomore Antonio Peña has mitigated.

Since Drummond’s return, Cunningham, who faced the brunt of the frontcourt responsibilities during the center’s absence, has seen his number of fouls per game decrease along with a slight increase in his scoring average. Ultimately, this matchup will come down to the Wildcats’ ability to guard against a potent West Virginia 3-point attack and their ability to exploit a relatively weak front-line for the Mountaineers.

Villanova 81, West Virginia 80.