New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - The eighth-ranked Villanova Wildcats go in search of their fourth straight victory to open Big East Conference play, as they do battle with the St. John's Red Storm at Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon.
Villanova is an astounding 14-1 on the season, and the team has won its first three conference games, the last two in relatively easy fashion. The Seton Hall Pirates were the latest to fall victim to the Wildcats, doing so on Wednesday night in an 83-67 final in Newark, New Jersey. Villanova's only loss of the campaign came against former league rival Syracuse on Dec. 28, and the 'Cats are 3-1 in true road games.
St. John's is hoping to put the brakes on a two-game slide today, as the team has dropped its first two conference games, both on the road, to Xavier (70-60) and Georgetown (77-60). As a result, the Red Storm bring an overall record of 9-5 into this clash, and they will be trying to secure their eighth home win in nine chances this season. SJU is 0-2 against ranked foes this season, dropping decisions to both Wisconsin (86-75) and Syracuse (68-63).
St. John's owns a 59-47 lead in the all-time series with Villanova, but the Wildcats won a pair of meetings last season and have claimed victory in nine of the last 10 overall.
As one might imagine, Villanova is enjoying tremendous success at both ends of the court this season, putting up 81.3 ppg behind typical shooting efforts of .462 overall and .351 from 3-point range, while allowing 65.5 ppg, with foes hitting only 39.1 percent of their total shots, including 34.3 percent of their long-range launches. The Wildcats goad the opposition into more than 16 turnovers per outing, while laying claim to a +5.0 rebounding margin. The team boasts three double-digit scorers in JayVaughn Pinkston (16.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg), James Bell (14.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Darrun Hilliard (14.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg), with three others (Josh Hart, Ryan Arcidiacono, Dylan Ennis) netting between 8.5 and 9.7 ppg.
Pinkston scored his 1,000th career point in the recent win over Seton Hall, as he finished with 17 points and six rebounds. Hilliard actually led the team with 19 points, thanks to his 4-of-5 effort from beyond the arc, while Arcidiacono drained three treys to tally 14 points, and Hart chipped in with 11 points and five boards coming off the bench. Villanova shot 52.0 percent from the field, knocking down 12-of-23 3-point tries along the way, while also converting 19-of-22 free throws. As for the Pirates, they shot 45.8 percent from the floor, which included nine treys, but committed 16 turnovers.
St. John's got off to a poor start in its recent clash with Georgetown, shooting a mere 21.4 percent from the field in the opening half en route to a 42-16 halftime deficit. Things improved dramatically for the Red Storm after the break (.567 FG percentage, 44 points), but the hole was simply too deep to dig out from and the team suffered a double-digit defeat as a result. Max Hooper and Sir'Dominic Pointer were the only two SJU players to reach double figures in the game, netting 13 and 11 points, respectively. The Hoyas used a 22-10 edge in points from the foul line to aid their overall effort.
D'Angelo Harrison has been the Red Storm's top player this season, and he ranks fourth in the Big East in scoring with an average of 18.5 ppg. He had a disastrous outing against Georgetown, however, going just 1-of-12 from the field to tally a mere four points. JaKarr Sampson (12.0 ppg, 6.6 rpg) is the only other player averaging double digits for St. John's, which averages 73.1 ppg while permitting 66.4 ppg.