Game #22: St. John's at Seton Hall Pirates

Seton Hall vs St. John's. The battle for New York Metro respect is on!

Such as it is.

The two storied Catholic Big East programs who have been lying in the Big East ditch for much of the past few years. Seton Hall has at least eked out a couple of trips to the NCAAs in the new century (2004, 2006); St. John's hasn't gotten there since 2002 (but has a 2003 NIT championship in that time).

Now, Coach Bobby Gonzalez runs the Pirates, Coach Norm Roberts runs the Red Storm, and tonight is the first of two meetings.

The game is at Seton Hall's home court, the Prudential Center, at 9 PM Eastern; it will be shown on ESPN 2 with Bill "Onions!" Raftery announcing with Sean McDonough. The betting line is 5 points in favor of Seton Hall.

Below are some pregame notes and quotes from the schools, an article on the familiarity between the players from the Daily News, and an article where the rug doesn't match the carpet from the New York Post, sparking rumors of a mass exodus of players.

Five Points/ Keys to the Game

Make The Scorers Think: When played one-on-one, Jeremy Hazell can be deadly, and while Kennedy or Horne might be able to stop him alone, that's a big risk to take. As well, the guards from the Hall can draw fouls, and St. John's is thin on the perimeter. The Pirate guards have to see different looks; they have to be made to think about what they're doing and pass the ball when they would prefer to drive. St. John's would do much better to force the Pirates to play in the halfcourt, hopefully take bad shots, and need to keep Kennedy, Horne, and Boothe on the floor for most of the 40 minutes.

Hang On To The Rock: The Pirates will run away with the game if they can force turnovers... or if St. John's gives up the ball as they are wont to do, with 8-10 turnover halves.

Hustle for the Ball: Every possession is precious when you're scoring less than one point per possession in conference play. The Storm has to brawl for the ball off the glass and on the floor; there will be scrums in this contest. The Johnnies have to win the rebounding battle on both ends.

Don't Play Their Game: Both teams want to look good in front of the NYC-area crowd, with team reputation and recruiting at stake. The Prudential Center gets a good, boisterous crowd, and the Pirates look vulnerable when they're running... the Red Storm could be goaded into playing a breakneck speed kind of game, putting up shots and trying to beat the Pirates down the court. That is a bad idea; they need to play a controlled game - run when it's prudent, stop the other team from running, and score in the halfcourt. If Malik Boothe takes 10 shots at the rim, this St. John's team is probably not doing a good job.

Power Inside: Justin Burrell has to get the ball. Sean Evans has to get the ball. Rob Thomas has to get the ball. Weak front line vs three players who can score? St. John's has to force that matchup.

Pregame Media

Pregame Quotes (St. John's) - listen to the part where he talks about making the simple play. I think that's a key tonight. Also Rob Thomas on Jeremy "Cab Driver" Hazell, and how he doesn't want to play anywhere else.

Pregame Notes (Seton Hall)

Zagsblog: SNY Video Interviews with Norm Roberts and Bobby Gonzalez

NY Daily News: St. John's, Seton Hall ready to battle

"We have to look at this as the same kind of a rivalry game as the one with Rutgers," Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez said. "Sure, Rutgers and our school share a state. But St. John's and Seton Hall have been going at in the Big East longer."

The Red Storm's Justin Burrell said he frequently runs into Pirates Hazell and Eugene Harvey during the off-season. He said the New York players like "talking some trash" about when their teams will play.

"It adds something," Burrell said. "If hey say different, it's a lie. You always want to beat your friends in basketball."

Like Thomas, Burrell has been surprised at how Hazell – who wasn't recruited by many – is turning in an all-conference sort of season....

"We're at a stretch where people think we're supposed to win, but it doesn't work that way," Gonzalez said. "Yes, these teams are equal or behind us in the conference standings. But as soon as you think it's a ‘W' you get beat. These games will be hard ones – believe me."

NY Post: ST. JOHN'S PLAYERS EYE EXIT IF COACH GETS BOOT

If Norm Roberts is not retained as St. John's coach next season, that decision likely will trigger a mass exodus of players, The Post has learned.

"Paris [Horne] and I were just talking about that not too long ago," forward D.J. Kennedy told The Post. "He said he heard some people talking about Norm, his situation, and we know it's up to us. If we can win some big games down the stretch that will help him keep his job, and that's what we want."

Yesterday, several of the Johnnies took turns defending Roberts, who has a 60-76 overall record in four-plus seasons and is 23-52 in Big East play.

"I would not play anywhere else," said forward Rob Thomas of Harlem. "Nowhere else in the Big East or the NCAA. They [coaches and teammates] give you everything they have."...

"I like playing for Coach," said Horne. "I like playing for the whole coaching staff and I love my teammates. I just can't see myself anywhere but St. John's."

Obviously the actual article does not match the title. But it is nice to hear the players defend their coach, as they should. And some guys will transfer if a change is made; some might transfer if a change is not made. But a mass exodus is alarmist and untrue. At 20-something, with guys they know, these cats aren't all going to jump ship. It makes no sense. A new coach might have to sell them on what he's planning on doing, but I can't believe guys like Rob Thomas - who has already burned a redshirt year - would transfer. And the school has no obligation to let them out of their scholarships.

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