St. John’s announced on Monday that Chris Obekpa, the Big East school’s sui generis shot blocker, would miss ten to fourteen days with an ankle injury. The news was seen as having the potential to derail the Red Storm’s NCAA tournament hopes — since the team lost their initial five conference games, SJU has won eight of their last nine and have entered the postseason discussion.
Steve Lavin’s team, though, handily beat Butler earlier this week, but with a season-defining match-up with Villanova looming, it was unclear whether Obekpa would rush back on to the court. Lavin stoked the discussion this afternoon, telling reporters the sophomore center lightly worked out and is feeling “better” — he also mentioned that possibility Obekpa might play against the Wildcats.
Lavin frequently thinks out loud, so while the pronouncement seems like it has merit, it would be very shocking if the center actually takes the court. St. John’s is one of the rare Big East teams that perfectly matches up with Villanova, and Daniel Ochefu, who Obekpa would likely defend, can also be covered by God’sgift Achiuwa (Orlando Sanchez might have been an option, but the forward will miss the game to be with his wife, who recently gave birth to the couple’s first child). However, the fact that Lavin felt the need to utter this tidbit in the presence of reporters just underlines the significance of Saturday’s contest. Obekpa’s shot-blocking is an important, but not crucial, piece of the St. John’s defense, but if the Johnnies don’t win, an NCAA bid will likely skip the Queens-based school for the third straight season. Rather than allow Jay Wright the knowledge Obekpa will definitely not play, Lavin is hoping Villanova at least plans for Obekpa and his 16.5 percent block rate.