Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Long-time Big East Conference rivals close out the 2014-15 regular season against each other on Saturday afternoon, as the St. John's Red Storm and fourth-ranked Villanova Wildcats square off at Wells Fargo Center.
St. John's has gone on a tear of late to build up a head of steam as the Big East Tournament looms, the team winning four in a row and seven of its last eight overall. The Red Storm, who are just 4-5 in true road games this season, are fresh off a 67-51 win at Marquette on Wednesday, running their record to 21-9 overall and 10-7 in conference.
At 28-2 overall and 15-2 in conference, Villanova is having one its most memorable campaigns ever, as the team has matched the most regular-season wins in program history (2013-14), and it has won 11 straight Big East bouts, also matching its longest conference winning streak (2005-06). The Wildcats, who slipped past Creighton on the road this past Tuesday, 76-72, are the Big East regular-season champions for the second straight year.
These two teams met in New York City back on Jan. 6, and Villanova prevailed in a 90-72 final. The Wildcats broke open a close game at the half by shooting an eye-popping 69 percent from the field in the final frame, highlighted by a 7-of-12 effort from 3-point range. Darrun Hilliard paced VU with 21 points, and he was joined in double figures by Dylan Ennis, Daniel Ochefu and Josh Hart. D'Angelo Harrison was high man for the Red Storm with 25 points.
Despite that setback, and losses in the last six meetings overall, St. John's leads the all-time series by a 59-50 margin.
St. John's only played six guys in its recent win over Marquette, and the one reserve was in their for only eight minutes. All of the scoring was done by the starters, with Rysheed Jordan and Harrison netting 23 and 21 points, respectively. The Red Storm made good on only 39 percent of their total shots, but drained 12-of-24 3-point tries. They also logged 42 rebounds in the game, but allowed the Golden Eagles 41. SJU did a solid job of getting in the faces of MU's shooters, holding the home team to 34.5 percent field goal efficiency, which included a 6-of-21 performance out on the perimeter.
Harrison is averaging 17.9 ppg to rank second in the Big East and he adds 5.5 rpg to his impressive stat line. Help comes from Jordan (13.9 ppg), Sir'Dominic Pointer (13.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and Phil Greene IV (13.2 ppg), who have all been consistent contributors as well. St. John's, which puts up 71.8 ppg while permitting 66.2 ppg, leads the Big East in steals (7.8 spg) and blocked shots (6.7 bpg), with Chris Obekpa pacing the conference in the latter with 3.2 bpg, and Pointer close behind with 2.5 bpg. The team also does a nice job goading the opposition into mistakes, forcing an average of 13.5 turnovers per outing.
Creighton put up a fight in Tuesday's home clash with Villanova, but like in so many instances, the cream rose to the top as the Wildcats escaped with a narrow victory. Villanova struggled to find its range in the opening half, shooting just 29 percent from the floor but trailed by only one at the break. A sizzling 61.9 percent effort over the final 20 minutes coupled with a 26-16 edge in points from the foul line for the game certainly aided the cause. Ryan Arcidiacono paced the 'Cats with 23 points, as he went 10-of-12 at the charity stripe, and Ennis tacked on 19 points thanks to a trio of 3-pointers.
Hilliard (14.2 ppg) and Arcidiacono (10.9 ppg) are the only two double-digit scorers for the Wildcats this season, as they prefer to use a balanced attack rather than rely on one or two star players. As a team, Villanova lights up the scoreboard for a Big East-best 75.7 ppg, doing so on the strength of its 46.5 percent shooting effort, which includes a league-high 38.5 percent showing from beyond the arc. Defensively, the 'Cats allow a mere 61.3 ppg, with foes shooting just 40.7 percent from the floor and 31.5 percent from distance. VU is also active in the passing lanes, forcing an average of 14.3 turnovers per contest.