NCAA Pick: Villanova Wildcats vs. St. John’s Red Storm
Villanova Wildcats (20-5 SU, 17-8 ATS) vs. St. John’s Red Storm (18-7 SU, 11-13-1 ATS)
When: Sunday, February 17, 2019 – 5 p.m. ET
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
Point Spread: NOVA -3/SJU +3 (BetOnline)
Total: O/U 147
Last Time Out: Villanova crushed Providence 85-67; St. John’s beat Butler 77-73 in overtime.
Scouting the Wildcats:
Villanova showed some Big East vulnerability in a loss at Marquette, but the Wildcats remain in great position to lock down another Big East title if they can continue to beat the teams they should beat over the remainder of their schedule. They took their first step toward that in their first game since the loss to the Golden Eagles by throttling Providence, sending a message to the rest of the league that they’re still the team to beat. The Wildcats might not have the depth they need to make another deep run in March, but for the time being, they’re showing that three players are apparently enough to run through the Big East by riding Eric Paschall, Phil Booth and Colin Gillespie to first place with just over two weeks left in the regular season.
Scouting the Red Storm:
A small fish in a big Ponds? No, that wasn’t the way that went, but for St. John’s and coach Chris Mullin, there’s nothing small about the way Shamorie Ponds has carried his team all season. Ponds showed what he and his team could be last season when he led the Red Storm to upsets of Villanova and Duke, and this year, he’s gotten help from Mustapha Heron and LJ Figueroa to put the Red Storm on the brink of returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011. St. John’s nearly had Villanova beaten in the teams’ first meeting, and a win over the Wildcats could be the exclamation point needed to lock down their spot.
Foul trouble and fatigue. These might be two of the most star-heavy teams in the nation, and as a consequence of that, they’re among the thinnest teams in the country. Depth is not a strength that either side brings to the table, and that was on full display when the teams met at Villanova earlier this year. Ponds played 39 minutes, Booth played 39 minutes, and Paschall went the full 40 without a breather. Meanwhile, Mullin gave just 32 minutes to the St. John’s bench. Jay Wright used his bench more at 71 minutes, but that comes with an asterisk because starter Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree was only able to play five minutes. If either of these teams loses a key player — especially if it’s Ponds, Booth or Paschall — for longer than a few minutes, their opponent gains a critical advantage.
Villanova will Cover if:
The Wildcats can keep Ponds from taking over the game. The St. John’s star is one of the few players in the nation who can genuinely take over a game and put a team on his back. When he’s on, the Red Storm are good enough to beat anybody in the nation. He’s going to get his points, but that’s not a problem for the Wildcats as long as they can keep his point totals to a reasonable level and keep Ponds from getting help. If Ponds goes for 25 points, Villanova can withstand that as long as the other four St. John’s starters don’t join him in the scoring act. If another Red Storm player such as Heron or Figueroa goes for 20 as well, or if Ponds hits 35 or more, the Wildcats will be in a tight spot.
St. John’s will Cover if:
The Red Storm can handle the moment. This is the kind of game that Mullin has been building toward during his first few seasons at his alma mater, and it’s the kind of game that St. John’s needs to win if it’s going to make some noise in the NCAA tournament. The Red Storm have a good resume at the moment, but not a great one and a win over Villanova would go a long way toward locking down a good seed and avoiding a difficult first-round matchup. St. John’s has played tough games and shown it can handle them by winning at Marquette, but the mystique of the defending national champions is another matter, even if the Golden Eagles are more talented than the Wildcats. To get a result, the Red Storm have to play the players wearing the Wildcats’ jerseys rather than the names on the jerseys — in other words, St. John’s can’t allow itself to be intimidated by Villanova’s tradition the way, so many teams are.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread:
Why is Villanova favored in this game? Simple: the Red Storm have been consistently inconsistent all season long. Every time the Red Storm have won a game in Big East play, they’ve managed to follow it up with an average to poor performance the next game. Only once has St. John’s followed up a Big East win with another Big East win, and that was in overtime against a Georgetown team that was struggling badly at the time. Otherwise, St. John’s has been allergic to sustained success, and that reared its ugly head again when the Red Storm followed up a win at Marquette with a terrible home loss to last-place Providence.
The pattern suggests that this game is going to feature the bad St. John’s, and that’s bad news against a Villanova team that’s been a lot more consistent throughout the year. I’ve got to go with the Wildcats in this one.