Through ten games, St. John's stands a respectable 7-3, with the extra point in their touchdown of wins coming a week ago in a 58-47 grind-it-out affair in the Holiday Festival against a scrappy Fordham Rams team led by Tom Pecora.
Seven days later, the Red Storm leaves its home venue of Madison Square Garden for their debut inside Brooklyn's Barclays Center, taking on yet another local team. This team has a greater connection to the Johnnies (and one I am honored to be a play-by-play announcer for).
At 2-6, St. Francis College may not seem like a formidable opponent on paper, but the Terriers are seemingly in almost every game they play, but can't hold leads. St. Francis will no doubt be looking to spring the upset and defeat the Johnnies for the first time since 2004, when Terrier head coach Glenn Braica was in his first year on the other bench, as the top assistant coach in Queens under Norm Roberts.
Through their first eight games, St. Francis has struggled to replace the scoring punch and lethal outside shooting of Serbian swingman Stefan Perunicic. In his stead, the Terriers have picked up a breakout season from sophomore Kevin Douglas, not to mention early dominance from fellow second-year starter Jalen Cannon. What else does St. Francis bring to the table? The Rumble will break it down just a little further for you.
Now that former four-year starter Justin Newton has graduated, junior Brent Jones runs the point to start the game.
Jones had actually won the starting job midway through the season last year, and enjoyed an increase in his productivity in the process. Lightning quick, Jones will push the ball up faster than any other point guard the Red Storm has seen this year, and his five assists per game indicate that he has become much more of a facilitator.
Look for English shooter Ben Mockford to be the primary recipient of Jones' passes, as the one-time Iona transfer averages over ten points per game while taking three-quarters of his shots from three-point range, where he shoots 33% from beyond the arc.
Fifth-year senior Dre Calloway is still rounding back into form coming off a separated shoulder that sacrificed most of his 2011-12 season, with sophomore P.J. Santavenere and freshman Anthony White providing valuable minutes as Braica emulates his former boss Roberts' tendency of spreading playing time equally, or "sharing the sugar," to use a popular "Lavin Line."
Junior college transfer Alex Isailovic arrives from Serbia as the heir apparent to Stefan Perunicic on paper, but is struggling to adjust to the speed and style of the American game. Having played in every contest this season, Isailovic has only scored 16 points in eight games, and is shooting a mere 5-for-22 from the field.
The front line for the Terriers begins with Jalen Cannon, a Northeast Conference all-rookie selection last season who is making a strong case for first team honors in the conference awards this year. Averaging sixteen points and nearly ten rebounds per contest, Cannon is a double-double threat on any given night, reminiscent almost of a smaller version of former Iona forward Mike Glover.
Cannon is joined up front by senior Akeem Johnson, the rock of the frontcourt who is just now getting into a groove once again after a few off nights in November. Normally a high-percentage shot taker, Johnson is only shooting 46 percent from the field this season, but that number should improve as the Terriers move into NEC play next month.
Swingman Kevin Douglas has undoubtedly been the NEC's most improved player through the first several weeks of the year, as he has come from playing sparingly as a freshman to starting every game and serving as St. Francis' second-leading scorer in his sophomore campaign.
For all the talk about finding a replacement for Perunicic, Douglas has been the one to fill the void so far, as his eleven-plus points per game and 54 percent shooting from the field (41 from three-point range) have paced the Terriers in a great deal of games this season.
At just 6-3 and change, senior Travis Nichols doesn't look like a prototypical power forward, but his defense is unparalleled. Moreover, Nichols is a lethal shooter and a deceptive matchup for whomever guards him. The Terriers' sixth man extraordinaire hasn't seen as many minutes as he is accustomed to, but can burn opponents whenever he is left open.
At 6-8, Matt Milk is the tallest man on the St. Francis roster, but has been more of a body in his two-plus years than a scorer. Don't look for that to change anytime soon against a more athletic and long St. John's team.
Previewing the Game
St. Francis has historically struggled against zone defenses, so expect Steve Lavin's matchup zone to give the Terriers problems throughout the night and take them out of their shooting element.
If there is one positive for St. Francis, it is that Jalen Cannon is a threat to approach 15 rebounds after how St. John's made Ryan Canty look in the Fordham game last week. Ultimately, this game will come down to three-point shooting for the Terriers. If Douglas and Mockford, the latter of whom seems to torch the nets whenever he's not on his home floor at the Pope Center, can match D'Angelo Harrison from beyond the arc, St. Francis will keep this game manageable and within shouting distance for most of the night.
Speaking of Harrison, if he can get going early, he could seriously end the night as a 30-point scorer. St. Francis is a solid team and a more formidable opponent than Fordham, but the matchup still bodes better for St. John's, which should translate to a comfortable Red Storm victory.
Shameless Plug: If you can't make it to the Barclays Center on Saturday, be sure to follow myself (@DalyDoseOfHoops) and Quinn, (@QSTJHoops) both of whom will be live-tweeting the clash between Brooklyn and Queens.