St. John's and Cincinnati. Is it becoming a rivalry?
The results seem to say so. The two teams have played each other four times in the past three seasons, each decided by two points. The teams' on-court motives are similar, their styles coincide with each other.
The Cincinnati Bearcats will travel to New York on Wednesday night to take on the St. John's Red Storm at Madison Square Garden. Coming off a difficult loss to Syracuse, the Johnnies are looking to regain their swagger and complete a rather unexpected sweep of the Bearcats.
Cincinnati is rugged and can shoot well. They like to play an ugly, frenetic kind of basketball - a style that forces opponents to play to their pace. If history tells us anything, this contest will be tough, imperfect, and close.
More, below the fold.
When St. John's met Cincinnati a month ago in the Midwest, the Bearcats put forth an uncharacteristically bad effort. A team that has converted 42% of its field goal attempts and 36% of its three-point attempts only hit reached 25% and 21% on January 7th when the Red Storm squeaked out a 59-57 win.
"I thought they had a bad game, but I'd like to think we had something to do with it," Mike Dunlap mentioned Tuesday. "They got a lot of long rebounds for second possessions and only scored on one of them. Realistically, it was half us and half them."
Mick Cronin's team put forth one of its poorest performances all season that day. Sean Kilpatrick, who leads the team scoring 15.4 points per game, missed 11 of his 15 attempts from long range. He shoots almost 40% from that distance on the season.
There's something about these two teams that warrants close games. Despite massive personnel turnovers, the Johnnies and Bearcats gave us a battle that looked no different from previous years. Heck, St. John's has even had a coaching change.
"We have similar types of athletes. Just like we do, they press and play very hard," Dunlap explained. "We're also both trying to get into the paint, so the officials come into play."
As they rarely do, St. John's does not have any size advantage over Cincinnati. Yancy Gates, Justin Jackson, and Cheikh Mbodj both have imposing size, with a propensity to block shots. Drivers like Moe Harkless, D`Angelo Harrison, and Amir Garrett better beware - although earning fouls and getting to the line will benefit them.
It will be interesting to see how the Red Storm recovers in its first game since its 25-point drubbing at the hands of Syracuse on Saturday. It was a disappointing loss to a squad with unmatched size, athleticism, depth, and talent.
"The energy in these practices has been really good. We're trying to loosen them up," said Dunlap. "They've actually been fantastic over these past two days, and they've had every reason not to be."
"We don't like to dwell on the past. We're moving on to the next game," mentioned swing man Garrett. "We will definitely look at what we did in that game, but we need to focus on Cincinnati and that's all that matters now."
If the trends continue, Wednesday night's game with Cincinnati will be a nail biter. The team who is able to minimize turnovers, win the glass, and knock down free throws is likely to be standing at the buzzer.
Or, whoever dares to reach 60 points.