For its sanity, 'Nova needs win

Corey Fisher and the Wildcats face a surging St. John's today. (Cal Sports Media/AP)

When you’re ranked 15th and are still being listed as a four seed in the NCAA Tournament by ESPN’s Mr. Bracketology, there’s never really a such thing as a must-win game. In fact, Villanova’s (21-6, 9-6 Big East) next must-win game will be in the NCAA Tournament, when you’re just trying not to go home for keeps. But this afternoon’s scrum at the Wells Fargo Center against No. 23 St. John’s (18-9, 10-5) is about as close as you can get. Just because.

Mostly, the Wildcats need it for their sanity.

They’ve lost three of their last five. And the two wins were against 12th-place Seton Hall by three and 16th-place DePaul by two in overtime, when they needed a late three-pointer by Corey Fisher just to force the extra 5 minutes. Yes, the losses have been close as well: by one at Rutgers, on a four-point play at the buzzer, by three against No. 4 Pittsburgh and by five against No. 17 Syracuse. But you don’t get bonus points for almost. Losing streaks are losing streaks. And they’re never good, especially at this stage of the ride.

Villanova won’t be favored in its final two games of the regular season, at No. 9 Notre Dame and at Pitt. It’ll be senior day for both opponents. So if the Wildcats don’t beat St. John’s, they’re looking at maybe taking a four-game losing skid into the conference tournament. And if that happens, there’s always a chance they could be playing on Tuesday, in the first round. Not exactly what a lot of people had in mind way back when, when they were picked to finish second. Of course, the way this league works, two more wins might be enough to still get them a double bye into Thursday’s quarterfinals, which they’ve managed to do each of the last two seasons. Not that it’s helped them all that much, since they lost in the 4-5 game last March to Marquette and barely won that same matchup in 2009 before getting eliminated in the semis.

But whatever happens between now and Madison Square Garden, what’s most important is how the Wildcats play. Their toughness is never in question, but consistency has been lacking. When they’re right, they can beat a lot of teams. When they’re just average, they can lose to nearly anyone. Not the way you want to be heading into March. But that’s where they’re at, so they’ve got to deal with it.

St. John’s, in case you haven’t been paying attention, has been the opposite kind of storyline under first-year coach Steve Lavin. But as surprising as the Red Storm have been, they’ve done most of their damage at home. Which is why the Wildcats really need to take advantage of South Philly, where they’ve split four Big East games this year.

If nothing else, a win would make that plane ride to South Bend a lot more upbeat. Sure beats the alternative.


Here is a capsule look at today’s games:


Who: Temple (21-6, 11-2 A-10) at George Washington (15-12, 8-5)

When: 2 o’clock

Where: Charles E. Smith Athletic Center, Washington

TV: Comcast SportsNet

Radio: WHAT (1340-AM)

Notes: Owls, coming off a 78-61 loss at No. 1 Duke on Wednesday, will be without injured Micheal Eric and likely will be without Scootie Randall . . . Colonials have won three straight, five of seven, are going for Big 5 sweep after two wins over La Salle, one over Saint Joseph’s.


Who: Villanova (21-7, 9-6 Big East) vs. St. John’s (18-9, 10-5)

When: 2 o’clock

Where: Wells Fargo Center


Radio: ESPN (950-AM)

Notes: Under coach Steve Lavin, the Red Storm has been one of the surprise teams in the country. Lavin is a former UCLA coach and TV analyst . . . Corey Stokes scored 24 in Wildcats’ loss to Syracuse on Monday after missing three games with foot injury.


Who: Drexel (19-9, 10-7 CAA) at Towson (4-24, 0-17)

When: 4 o’clock

Where: Towson Center, Towson, Md.

TV/Radio: None

Notes: With a victory, the Dragons move closer to fifth seed in CAA tourney. Top four teams get first-round bye. Dragons will play in CAA first round on March 4 in Richmond, Va. . . . Towson has lost 17 consecutive games, last “W” was 93-90 in OT vs. La Salle on Dec. 29.


Who: St. Bonaventure (15-11, 7-6 A-10) at Saint Joseph’s (7-20, 2-11)

When: 4 o’clock

Where: Hagan Arena

TV/Radio: None

Notes: The Hawks are tied with Charlotte for the final spot in the A-10 tourney. The Hawks visit Charlotte on March 5. Twelve of the 14 conference teams participate in the tourney . . . Bonnies have won four of five.


Who: Penn (12-12, 6-4 Ivy) vs. Cornell (7-18, 3-8)

When: 7 o’clock

Where: Palestra

Radio: ESPN (950-AM)

Notes: Four of Penn’s Ivy games have gone to overtime, with the Quakers only winning once. Penn leads the series, 143-72, but the Big Red has won six of seven, including an 82-71 win in Ithaca, N.Y., 2 weeks ago.