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VILLANOVA WILDCATS (19-12) at ST JOHN'S RED STORM (16-14) Line & Total: Villanova -5 & 125
Looking to ride the momentum of a big upset against No. 5 Georgetown, Villanova will take on St. John’s in the second round of the Big East Tournament on Wednesday night.
These two teams met in their first conference game of the season on Jan. 2, with Villanova pulling out a 98-86 overtime win, outscoring the Red Storm 15-3 in the extra period. Overall this season, the Wildcats have excelled against the spread, going 19-9 ATS (68%). That includes a 12-6 ATS mark (67%) against Big East foes and a 9-3 ATS mark (75%) in true road games. St. John’s went 13-12 ATS overall this season, including 4-4 (SU and ATS) at Madison Square Garden. Villanova is peaking at just the right time, winning six of its past nine games (SU and ATS). Meanwhile, the Red Storm have lost six of seven SU, including four in a row. And they haven’t been able to figure out Villanova lately either, going 1-8 SU (3-6 ATS) in the past nine meetings. It has been no better in home games for St. John’s, as they have dropped five in a row (1-4 ATS) at home to Villanova. And it won’t get any easier with leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison (17.8 PPG) out for the season (suspension). However, the Red Storm are 5-2 (SU and ATS) in their past seven home games, and 'Nova is 0-8 ATS in the past three seasons when playing a marginal winning team (51% to 60% win pct.).
St. John’s had no answer for PG Ryan Arcidiacono (12.2 PPG, 3.5 APG) in the first meeting. The freshman went off for a career-high 32 points, hitting 7-of-13 threes and 11-of-13 free throws. He was helped by a 26-point performance from PF JayVaughn Pinkston (12.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG), who also tallied 20 points and five steals in the Wildcats’ upset win over Georgetown in their most recent game last Wednesday. Six-foot-6 wing Darrun Hilliard (11.5 PPG) is the team’s third and final double-digit scorer. He scored 14 points against Georgetown and had a well-rounded 14 points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals against St. John's on Jan. 2. Also key to this team's success is 6-foot-10 C Mouphtaou Yarou (9.4 PPG, 7.7 RPG), who is averaging 10.8 RPG over his past five contests and grabbed seven offensive rebounds versus the Red Storm earlier this year.
All season, the Red Storm offense has dominated by two scorers: SG D’Angelo Harrison (17.8 PPG) and PF Jakarr Sampson (14.9 PPG). Harrison, though, is suspended for the rest of the season, and he single-handedly kept the St. John’s alive in the first meeting with 'Nova, going off for 36 points. Sampson, by contrast, struggled in that contest, fouling out and scoring just two points on 1-of-6 shooting. He has picked it up lately though, averaging 17.0 PPG on 48% FG over his past five games. The 6-foot-8 freshman is also posting 6.6 RPG, leading the team on the boards along with fellow first-year player C Chris Obekpa (3.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG) who ranks second in the nation with 4.1 blocks per game. With Harrison out, more of the backcourt onus falls on freshman PG Phil Greene IV (9.6 PPG, 2.6 APG), who has gone for double-digits in his past four games (12.8 PPG), but has made just 36% FG and 1-of-15 threes in his past five contests. He did shoot well in the overtime loss to Marquette on Saturday though, pumping in 20 points on 9-of-15 FG. He will need to have another big game like that to keep the Red Storm close.
RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS (15-15) at NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (23-8) Line & Total: Notre Dame -7.5 & 124
No. 24 Notre Dame will open its final Big East Tournament on Wednesday night when it faces a Rutgers team that started its tournament with a blowout victory on Tuesday.
The Irish are moving to the ACC next season, but they're hoping to improve greatly on their 9-17 SU record in Big East Tournament history. And although Notre Dame has advanced to the semifinal round in each of the past three seasons, it has never played in a Big East Championship game. Rutgers started off its postseason Wednesday with a 76-57 trouncing of DePaul in the first round. The Scarlet Knights led by only one point at halftime, but outscored the Blue Demons 44-26 after intermission, thanks mostly to PF Wally Judge who scored a team-high 20 points on a perfect 9-for-9 FG while pulling down 10 boards. Although Notre Dame is 8-2 SU in the past 10 matchups between these schools, Rutgers is 13-3 ATS in the past 16 meetings versus the Irish. When they first met this season on Jan. 19, 12-point favorite Notre Dame eked out a 69-66 home win. The Irish are an even 6-6 ATS in non-home games (2-1 ATS on neutral court) this season, while the Knights are a much more profitable 9-4 ATS outside of Piscataway, with Wednesday's game being their first neutral-site contest this season.
Since winning at St. John's on Jan. 9, Rutgers has not beaten any Big East team that finished higher than the Knights in the final standings, as all four wins have come against Seton Hall, South Florida and DePaul, the three worst teams in the conference. But since ending a five-game losing skid, Rutgers has allowed just 54.0 PPG during a modest two-game win streak. The Knights score just 65.5 PPG on 44.3% FG this season, but were much more efficient on Tuesday with 76 points on 61.1% FG and 6-of-11 threes. SG Myles Mack (13.5 PPG, 2.7 APG) scored 19 points (8-of-15 FG, 3-of-5 threes) with four rebounds, four assists and three steals versus DePaul, and chipped in with 12 points and three steals versus Notre Dame earlier this season. Mack has been deadly from behind the arc all season (46% threes), knocking down 7-of-13 from long range over his past three contests. Although PF Wally Judge (7.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG) was the hero Tuesday with a double-double, he played just 17 minutes in the loss in South Bend on Jan. 19, finishing with four points and zero rebounds. Senior swingman Dane Miller (6.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG) didn't shoot well in that loss to the Irish (3-for-9 FG), but finished with nine rebounds (4 offensive), five assists and three blocks. But since a 17-point outburst versus Providence on Feb. 23, Miller has averaged just 4.8 PPG and failed to score a single point (0-for-2 FG) in Tuesday's win. SG Jerome Seagears had a huge game against DePaul with 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists, but did very little versus the Irish with a mere five points (1-of-5 FG). Rutgers has been without leading scorer Eli Carter (14.9 PPG) since Feb. 16 when he broke the fibula in his right leg after a hard fall. Carter scored a team-high 20 points in the January loss to Notre Dame.
The Irish average 70.7 PPG, but have been in an offensive funk lately with a mere 59.0 PPG over their past six contests, failing to surpass 66 points in any of these six games, where they've gone 3-3 (SU and ATS). But this is a very smart and unselfish team that rarely settles for low-percentage jumpers. Notre Dame makes 47.0% FG (27th in D-I) while boasting a nation's-best 1.57 Ast/TO ratio (17.5 APG, 11.1 TOPG). The team's go-to player is PF Jack Cooley (13.6 PPG, 10.6 RPG) who posted one of his 19 double-doubles this season versus Rutgers on Jan. 19 with 19 points and 10 rebounds. But due mostly to battling an illness this month, Cooley has a mere 6.3 PPG and 7.0 RPG in three March games. The Irish backcourt of Jerian Grant (13.4 PPG, 5.7 APG) and Eric Atkins (11.7 PPG, 5.9 APG) remains one of the top duos in the nation. Grant has a 2.05 Ast/TO ratio, including 15 assists and just three turnovers in his past two games. He hasn't shot very well this year though at 41.8% FG, including 2-of-12 from the floor in Saturday's 73-57 blowout loss at Louisville. Atkins has a whopping 2.73 Ast/TO ratio this season, but scored just nine points on 3-of-8 FG against the Cardinals. Although Atkins had more turnovers (five) than assists (four) in the Jan. 19 victory over Rutgers, Grant dished out 10 assists with just three turnovers that night. Swingman Pat Connaughton (8.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG) was a near-perfect 6-of-8 shooting (4-of-6 threes) in his 17-point outburst against the Knights and also posted a strong 13 points and seven boards in Saturday's loss.

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