Villanova, St John’s Remain on Bubble, Looking to Improve NCAA Tournament Resumes As Selection Sunday Nears

Steve LavinVillanova and St. John’s are both considered on the edge of making — or missing out on — the NCAA Tournament. Their games this weekend will be huge for their resumes.

Villanova (17-10, 8-6) avoided a potentially disastrous loss at home to Rutgers on Monday night. The Wildcats trailed by 12 points early in the second half but scored 50 points after intermission to beat the Scarlet Knights 71-63. It was Villanova’s biggest comeback win of the season, its second-straight victory and its fourth win in the past five games. The Wildcats’ magic numbers are six and 70 — when Villanova hits at least six three-pointers, it is 14-0 and when it scores at least 70 points, it is 12-1.

The Wildcats have an RPI of 56, with three wins over top-50 teams: 73-64 at home against No. 5 Louisville, 75-71 in overtime at home against No. 3 Syracuse and 70-61 at Connecticut. Villanova does have one very bad loss, 75-57 at home to Ivy League doormat Columbia on Nov. 20.

On Saturday, Villanova hosts No. 17 Marquette, a surprising co-leader in the Big East. The good news for the Wildcats is that all three of Marquette’s conference losses have come on the road (Cincinnati, Louisville and Georgetown). The Golden Eagles beat Villanova twice last season, including rallying from an 18-point deficit in Philadelphia. Villanova missed the NCAA Tournament last year for the first time since 2004, but a win Saturday would ensure at least a .500 record in the Big East and go a long way toward getting back.

St. John’s also missed out on the Big Dance last season. A big positive for the Red Storm (16-10, 8-6) is that head coach Steve Lavin returned for Wednesday’s win over the Big East’s worst team, South Florida. Because of the death of his father, Lavin missed both of the team’s losses last week, 77-58 at Syracuse and 72-58 at Louisville. Lavin also missed most of last season while recuperating from prostate cancer, and the Red Storm struggled mightily. They were 2-2 with him in 2011-12 but finished 13-19 a season after their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2002.

St. John’s has an RPI of 58 and lost its lone meeting against Villanova, which could be important. The Red Storm have three wins over top-50 teams: 53-52 at No. 14 Cincinnati, 67-63 versus No. 20 Notre Dame and 71-65 against Connecticut. However, St. John’s has three bad losses on its resume, to Murray State, San Francisco and UNC-Asheville, and didn’t beat any good teams in non-conference play.

On Sunday, St. John’s hosts No. 20 Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden, with the Panthers on a two-game losing streak that likely will knock them out of the polls Monday. Pitt is 4-3 on the road this season, with St. John’s 11-3 at home (4-2 at MSG). Thirteen of the St. John’s 15 victories over ranked teams since 2004-05 have come at the Garden.

Whether the Johnnies will have starting guard Jamal Branch on Sunday is up in the air. He missed his fourth straight game Wednesday with a knee injury (left MCL sprain). Branch, a sophomore, was third on the team in scoring (8.3 ppg) at the time of his injury and is the team’s best ball-handler.

Villanova is 250-1 to win the national title at Bovada, with St. John’s among the three longest shots at 1,000-1 with Harvard and Temple. The live betting games this weekend are Clemson at Maryland, South Carolina at Georgia, Georgetown at Syracuse (all Saturday) and Michigan State at Ohio State (Sunday).

Best in Class: Bovada has the largest daily offering of college basketball team props around.

Photo via Facebook/St. John’s Red Storm

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