This old-school Big East game renews the local rivalry between Seton Hall and St. John's. The Pirates have gotten the better of St. John's lately, winning 7 of the last 10 games, but as everyone who has paid the least bit of attention to the Big East this year, this year you can throw recent history out the window.
2010-11 record: 19-9 (11-5 Big East)
2009-10 record: 17-16 (6-12 Big East; First Round- NIT)
Key losses: Anthony Mason, Jr.
Key returnees: Dwight Hardy, DJ Kennedy, Justin Burrell, Justin Brownlee, Sean Evans, Paris Horne, Malik Boothe, Malik Stith, Dwayne Polee, Jr. (freshman)
Before the season, everyone I knew thought that the fact that St. John's was picked 6th in the Big East (and got a first place vote from Rick Pitino) was absolutely ludicrous.
Well, crow is now on the endangered species list thanks to all of it that we have eaten over the past month or so.
Steve Lavin's squad has upset some major names- UConn, Pitt, Notre Dame and Duke to name a few- and turned Madison Square Garden into a house of horrors, with only Syracuse emerging victorious against the Red Storm early in the Big East season.
A big part of this resurgence is Dwight Hardy, who has gone from bench scorer to Big East Player of the Year candidate. Averaging 17.9 PTS on a solid shooting percentage, Hardy has averaged 25 PTS in February games, ranking him among the hottest players in the country.
Justin Brownlee has also come out of relative obscurity to rank second on the team in scoring. The versatile, athletic forward is St. John's main post presence. DJ Kennedy's stats have dipped this year, but the former leading scorer is leading the Red Storm in rebounding at about 6 REB per game.
Paris Horne, another one-time go-to player, has evolved into the team's best three point shooter and perimeter defender this year. Horne is the glue guy that holds St. John's together, and he's one of the best in the Big East at it.
Coming off the bench is the super-athletic Justin Burrell. Burrell has always had talent, but has never really realized his potential. He has settled into the first big off the bench role and has done well in it averaging about 7 PTS and 5 REB per game, also on solid percentages.
Malik Boothe runs the show from the point guard position, but Hardy usually finishes games at that spot because he's their go-to guy. Boothe brings a pesky defense to the Red Storm against smaller guards.
Freshman Dwayne Polee is the best athlete on the team at the wing, and although he doesn't score much, look for him to be active on defense with his length, and to get out in transition as much as he can. Sean Evans and Dele Coker give the Red Storm more size when they need it, while Malik Stith gives them depth at the guard positions.
The biggest thing about St. John's this year is their seniors- 9 of them are in the rotation. They have been playing with each other for 4 years now, and make appropriate senior plays- knowing where each other is on the floor and where they like the ball, being active on defense, and making winning plays. Their confidence is at an all-time high right now, and they will look to conclude their road schedule with a bang as they will honor their 10 seniors and 4 senior managers on Saturday at home against USF.
PIRATES WILL WIN IF:
- The Jordan Theodore situation isn't a distraction for him
It came out earlier today that a judge ruled that there was probable cause that Theodore had a gun on campus. It was not confirmed that he actually did, but nevertheless this is just one more possible distraction in a season gone awry for the Pirates. They can't let it affect them, and while Theodore has not missed any games (the incident occurred during and after the Villanova game and involved the mothers of both Jordan and Keon Lawrence), now that it is out in the open, it's a different animal.
- They get movement on offense
St. John's this season has run a lot of zone on defense, but it is an aggressive zone. The Pirates need to move the ball to get that zone moving, creating driving lanes for Theodore and company. Penetration against this zone will lead to some open looks that, of course, the Pirates have to knock down when given the chance.
- Herb Pope snaps out of his funk
Pope had a woeful February in which he averaged just 7 PTS and 5 REB in the Pirates' 6 games last month (they went 1-5 in those games). Take away a 12-6 performance at Rutgers, and those averages drop to 5 PTS and 4 REB. The Pirates need Pope to be effective to win games, and that includes staying on the court and not committing silly fouls.
RED STORM WILL WIN IF:
- Dwight Hardy continues his hot February into March
Hardy has been red- hot for the Red Storm. If there's a defense that can slow him down, it's Seton Hall's. The Pirates' D has held the likes of Marshon Brooks, Kemba Walker, Corey Fisher, and more to sub-par nights, and if they do the same with Hardy, St. John's could be in for a long night.
- They rebound the ball
St. John's isn't the best rebounding team, with DJ Kennedy leading them at just 6 REB per game. The Pirates tend to struggle in that department as well, so this should really apply to both teams. Whoever wins the battle on the glass will have an inside track on this game.
- They avoid the trap game
I don't anticipate this being an issue due to all the veterans St. John's has on their roster, but it could be possible with a highly- anticipated Senior Night coming up for all those seniors. Despite the fact that that game is against USF, this game fits the definition of "Trap Game" given the proximity of the two games (just one day separates the game days for St. John's).
Two more notes- I will be calling the action tomorrow night on 89.5 FM WSOU and wsou.net, with South Orange Juice's own John Lopiano providing color commentary.
Second, be sure to check out the Juice on game day, as I will post a Q&A that I did with the St. John's SB Nation blog Rumble in the Garden. Look for it around noon-ish.
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