Game 28: St. John's vs Pittsburgh Panthers (home)

Listen/ See: Skee-Lo, I Wish
Tip Off: 12:00 PM, Saturday, February 27
Vs: Pitt (21-7, 10-5)
Location: Madison Square Garden
TV: MSG

Opposition blogs:
Eye of a Panther
Pitt Blather

Head Coach Norm Roberts

"We will continue to play the way we have been playing. We will win our share. Some will go our way. We have to continue to play hard."

The Red Storm tantalizingly close to an upset win over Marquette, one of the top-8 teams in the conference. A win would have had St. John's at 6-9 in the Big East, and in spitting distance of this year's parity-laden Big East - in 12th place, but a game back of the 8th-11th teams.

For all the gnashing of teeth and the losses, St. John's is not only competitive, but has an outside chance at the NIT with a lot of breaks. One wonders what would have happened if St. John's could have beaten Providence... or Rutgers... or Seton Hall... or Marquette. 2-2 in those games would have the Johnnies in the NIT picture with an outside shot at the NCAA Tournament.

And if I were a little bit taller, I'd be a baller.

It's too bad that close doesn't matter, because truth be told, the team has played better in recent weeks. There is some passion, some effective play from all positions (instead of DJ Kennedy trying to carry the team) and to their credit, the team is still fighting hard to win the tough games, but has found themselves a step behind both good teams and the bad teams they have lost to.

Pitt Panthers logoCan that change in this late season rematch against Pittsburgh? In the last game, St. John's allowed 52% shooting to the Panthers in the second half, and most of that damage was done inside the arc. The Red Storm also shot much more poorly in that second half, shooting 26.7% (as opposed to 39% in the first half). The Red Storm consistently beat the Panthers to the boards, especially in the second half - but that may have been because those (offensive) rebounds were available with such poor shooting. Ashton Gibbs was held in check from the perimeter; but Brad Wanamaker and Gary McGhee scored 16 and 10 points on a total of 17 shots.

There is still an outside chance for the team to see the postseason. Can the Red Storm beat the Panthers at home in the rematch and keep hope alive?

Read more on what's different with the Panthers in my 2nd question sessions with Pitt Blather and with Eye of a Panther.

Did You Know?: "Madison Square Garden is Pitt's home away from home. Since the 2000-01 season, Pitt has won two Big East Tournament titles, appeared in seven of the last nine Big East Tournament title games and amassed a 23-10 overall record in the arena. It has played 33 games there since the 2000-01 season."

- Pitt Panthers Website

Keys to the Game

Convert Missed Shots. The earlier game saw a lot of that St. John's special talent of getting to offensive boards, and smacking the ball with the hope it goes through the net. If St. John's can convert some of those tips into second chance points, they will have an excellent chance to steal the game.

Stop Ashton Again (And Guard the Perimeter). Ashton Gibbs has more help this time around in Travon Woodall and a more healthy Jermaine Dixon, but he is still the ban. If they can't bomb from the outside, the team can stagnate.

Stay Sharp. Pittsburgh is okay with playing a slugfest and pulling out the game with some key stops and a strong play at the end. In the earlier game, Gary McGhee scored a late bucket that solidified their chances of winning on a pick and roll where no St. John's defender rolled back to the basket. The Red Storm have to stay sharp and play better defense for the whole game; some missed assignments will create easy opportunities or free throws.

Turnover Battle. St. John's found it difficult to get Marquette to turn the ball over; they have to force the Panthers into tough spots and generate a few key TOs, while minimizing their own turnovers.

Do It, Fluid. St. John's has to get back to the movement, offense, and execution that served them well against Louisville and South Florida. Confidence and aggressiveness have their rewards.

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