Ask anyone connected with Villanova basketball about playing on the road and they all recite the same saying: “94 by 50 feet,” the dimensions of a regulation court. The answer is always the same no matter how large or how loud the arena.
On Sunday, the 13th-ranked Wildcats will employ their “94 by 50 feet” plan at the Big East’s largest and loudest arena, Madison Square Garden, where they will take on St. John’s before what is likely to be a sellout crowd of more than 19,000.
The action will be fierce on the court, but away from the 94 by 50, there will be plenty of noise and excitement from fans of the Red Storm (18-7, 6-6 Big East) who think a win over the first-place Cats (20-5, 11-1) will go a long way toward securing a bid to the NCAA tournament.
The commotion could rattle anyone, but Eric Paschall said the Wildcats are ready.
“I feel like 94 by 50 helps us a lot,” the senior forward said Friday after practice at the Davis Center. “I definitely feel like it works, just worry about what we can control. That’s our attitude.
“I think if you’ve played in enough games, you end up being fine. You play basketball all your life and you learn how to do that at a very young age. You can’t worry about other stuff that’s not on the court. Just play the game and see the results after.”
Whatever the strategy coach Jay Wright comes up with on the road, it must be working. The Wildcats are 40-10 on the opponent’s courts in Big East games since play began in the realigned conference in the 2013-14 season.
They’re even better in the Garden, having won 14 straight contests, counting regular-season and tournament, over St. John’s.
“Really? I wish you didn’t tell me that,” Wright joked with reporters.
“Every year’s a different year and a different team. This is probably the best team we’ve faced in a long time there with them. But last year they beat us at home. Their style gives us trouble and we know it.
“It’s not going to be pretty, we know that. It never is. That’s another thing we have to be prepared for. Our young guys have to understand that. You’re not going to look good. You’ve just got to be effective.”
When the two teams met on Jan. 8 at Finneran Pavilion, the Wildcats trailed for almost all of the first 37 minutes before grabbing the lead with 2:36 to play and holding on for a 76-71 victory.
The Red Storm are led by junior guard Shamorie Ponds, who averages 20.5 points per game, third in the Big East, and leads the league in assists (5.3 per game) and steals (2.75). All five starters average in double figures.
Wright said the most difficult part about facing St. John’s is dealing with their versatility.
“All five of their guys can guard all five positions,” he said. “So they switch everything and you really don’t have an advantage anywhere. That really bothered us last time. Offensively, the same thing holds true. All five of their guys can play all over the floor, much like us last year. So you always have a problem somewhere.”
The Wildcats already have played in the Garden this season, defeating Connecticut on Dec. 22. But the noise will be much more intense Sunday.