Expected by many to finish near the top of the Big East standings, Villanova could have trouble just finishing in the top half with a brutal remaining schedule.
One team it certainly wasn't expected to trail was St. John's, which can assure itself of maintaining its first ranking in more than a decade by handing the No. 15 Wildcats a third consecutive home loss for the first time in 17 seasons Saturday.Villanova (21-7, 9-6) was picked to finish second in the Big East but is out of the running for the regular-season title and in a tie for seventh, one game behind a 23rd-ranked Red Storm team which is tied for third.The Wildcats, who close their schedule next week with road matchups against No. 9 Notre Dame and No. 4 Pittsburgh, have lost six of 11 following a 16-1 start. However, leading scorer Corey Fisher isn't concerned."Not at all," said Fisher, averaging 16.0 points. "(The Big East) is so good, one day you could be in third, next day you could be in fifth. We're not worried about rankings. We're not worried about nothing."Villanova, though, should probably be somewhat concerned about facing St. John's (18-9, 10-5), which is looking for a season-high sixth consecutive win.In their first game as a ranked team since the 2000-01 season, the Red Storm routed DePaul 76-51 on Wednesday night."This is an example of a team developing a hard edge and maturity that will bode well for us coming down the homestretch into the postseason," coach Steve Lavin said.Lavin's team has won three straight against ranked opponents and they were all in the top 10 at the time -- Duke, Connecticut and Pitt. However, the Red Storm have lost six straight to Villanova by an average of 12.1 points since a 52-50 road win Feb. 11, 2003.The Wildcats are looking to avoid losing three straight home games for the first time since the 1993-94 season.Their latest home loss came Monday night, shooting a season-worst 32.3 percent from the field and falling 69-64 to No. 17 Syracuse.Senior guard Corey Stokes returned to score 24 points -- nine better than his season average -- after missing three games with turf toe.Fisher, though, was held to eight points on 3-of-16 shooting, two nights after scoring a career-high 34 in a 77-75 overtime win at DePaulWhile Stokes matched a season high with five 3-pointers versus Syracuse, the rest of the team went 0 for 16 -- Fisher missed eight. Villanova has shot 19.5 percent (8 of 41) from beyond the arc over its last two home games."We're not as good as I think people would like us to be, but we're not that far off," said coach Jay Wright, one shy of 100 regular-season wins in Big East play. "We're not going to panic. We're going to keep getting better, keep working."Our defense isn't bad, it can get a little better. Maybe it can get us some easier shots. We'll get there. I think this team will get there."Defense has keyed the Red Storm's success, limiting teams to an average of 61.4 points during its five-game run. Villanova is 17-1 when scoring more than 70.Senior Dwight Hardy has been the sparkplug for the St. John's offense, averaging 25.2 points -- 7.9 more than his season mark -- in the last six games."We can win every game if we come out and play like we did tonight," Hardy said after scoring 21 points Wednesday, "and there's no reason why we can't."While Villanova guard Maalik Wayns' status is unknown (back spasms), teammate Maurice Sutton is expected to be available after he was suspended against Syracuse for missing curfew.