Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Struggling St. John’s to Host No. 1 Villanova in First Game After LoVett Announcement
By ADAM ZAGORIA
The last time St. John’s beat the No. 1 team in the Associated Press Poll, Chris Mullin led the Johnnies on the court instead of the sideline.
That was Jan. 26, 1985 when Mullin scored 20 points to lead the Johnnies to a a 66-65 win over Georgetown. St. John’s hasn’t beaten a No. 1 team inside Madison Square Garden since Dec. 30, 1978, when the Johnnies topped Duke, 69-66, in the Holiday Festival.
Now here comes No. 1 Villanova (15-1, 3-1 Big East) set to invade the Garden on Saturday night against a St. John’s team (10-7, 0-5) that has dropped five in a row. This will be St. John’s first game since the school announced sophomore guard Marcus LoVett (knee) was done for the season.
“They’re No. 1 in the country for good reason,” Mullin said of the Wildcats, who obliterated No. 10 Xavier, 89-65, on Wednesday. “Great coaching, great players, they play together, fundamentally sound, and what you have to do is be fundamentally sound, too. You can’t gamble, give them easy baskets, and can’t turn the ball over because they are going to make you pay.
“To me, the amazing thing about Villanova is they’re so fundamental, they do it so well, that they become elite. A lot of teams have outstanding speed or something else, but [Villanova] is just a solid, fundamental, well-oiled machine. You have to be prepared for that, and not let them overpower you. They play for 40 minutes and beyond if they have to.”
Villanova is the projected No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament at this stage, per ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. In the last five years under coach Jay Wright, the Wildcats have won five straight November tournaments, four straight Big East regular-season titles, two Big East Tournament titles and one NCAA championship.
Dating back to 1950, St. John’s is 4-14 overall against the nation’s top-ranked team during the regular season.
The Johnnies are now moving forward knowing that LoVett is done for the season, and their vaunted backcourt of LoVett, Shamorie Ponds and Justin Simon is no longer intact. LoVett will remain on scholarship but it remains an open question whether he’ll ever play for the Red Storm again.
“I wasn’t surprised because that was really the first day we were going to have him try and get to that next level of rehab,” Mullin said of Wednesday, when LoVett was supposed to try and practice. “He did his stuff in the morning, and by the time he was to get on the court, he was still sore and didn’t feel like he could do it. It’s probably much to do with what time is left for him to get ready. He’s probably been out for about seven weeks, and there’s just not enough time to get him back in shape. He just has to concentrate on getting healthy, and that’s the most important thing.”
St. John’s had high hopes of making the NCAA Tournament entering the season after being picked sixth in the Big East. Now those dreams appear all but dashed as the Johnnies face a potential 0-7 conference start. After Villanova, they travel to No. 10 Xavier on Wednesday.
“We look at the last game, learn from it, and move on,” Mullin said. “I know it sounds kind of mundane, but that’s what you have to do. We’ve stuck to that, and for the most part we’ve done okay. Short-term memory, win or lose, and get ready for the next game.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.