Before the big game hits the turf at the Meadowlands on Sunday, New York City will be buzzing because of basketball at Madison Square Garden. In the afternoon there will be a NCAA doubleheader featuring some of the country's more storied programs.
At 12:30 St. John's (12-9, 2-6) will be hosting the Marquette Golden Eagle (12-9, 4-4). Following that Big East showdown, The Garden will have the Georgetown Hoyas and the Michigan State Spartans play an out of conference contest. All of this can be seen on Fox Sports and will be called by the great Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery.
When this game was announced on both teams' schedules, it looked like it might of been one of the best Big East games of the year.
Now it features probably two of the most disappointing teams in the conference, maybe the country.
Before the season, these two schools led the conference in first-place votes and players named to Big East teams. The Golden Eagles received five first place votes and two All-Big East members, Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson.
The Red Storm received two first place votes despite finishing fifth in the preseason polls; junior D`Angelo Harrison was named to first team All-Big East and sophomore Jakarr Sampson to second team, with Chris Obekpa was an honorable mention.
It is safe to say a lot of the country and coaches didn't expect these two teams to be where they are right now - in the middle of the Big East, hoping for a miracle run to get back to NCAA Tournament contention.
Scouting St. John's
One aspect of the Red Storm's team identity that has been working recently is their full court pressure. We have seen throughout this year that when head coach Steve Lavin goes to the press it often sparks a run by the Johnnies.
"Last five games we’ve been pressing, it has been paying dividends," Lavin said during his pregame press conference. "[The] challenge is when we don’t score and are unable to set the press."
Pressure against Creighton forced the Bluejays into 17 turnovers, for example.
This game might turn out to be a "challenge" for St. John's because Marquette one of the best teams in the conference in terms of scoring defense and field goal percentage defense. The Golden Eagles are the stingiest team in terms of two-point field goal percentage allowed, giving up under 44% inside the arc.
Since the beginning of league play Marquette has followed a pattern, win-one, lose-one.
They haven't been able to go on a stretch of consistent winning after coming off of an Elite Eight in 2013. The Golden Eagles lost their marquee non-conference matchups against Wisconsin, San Diego State, Ohio St. and Arizona State and have not won back to back games since December.
Sixth year head coach Buzz Williams decided to change things up in their win against a good Providence team. He changed the starting lineup for the first time in seven games, playing freshmen JaJuan Johnson and Deonte Burton and 11 different players saw extended action in the win.
Despite the newly deep bench for Williams, his go to guy guy is still the senior Davante Gardner (14.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg in 27 minutes per game). After winning Big East Sixth Man of the Year last season, he has seen an increased workload which other teams including St. John's and Lavin have noticed. "[Davante] Gardner is the nerve-center of the team and everything goes through him," Lavin said.
Max Hooper added that "he’s experienced and his role has expanded over the course of his career."
Whether he starts or not - he came off the bench against Providence - Gardner will be a tough matchup for Orlando Sanchez and Chris Obekpa down low.
Marquette is 6-1 under Buzz Williams against St. John's.
Last year, Marquette clinched the Big East regular season title with an OT victory over St. John's at MSG, winning the game on a Vander Blue layup.
Marquette played three overtime games in a row before the win over Providence on Thursday.
St. John's has struggled starting halves all year long, will this contest be different? "I feel like we can always compete with the best teams, but our biggest problem is the way we start the game," JaKarr Sampson said. "That’s what has been killing us all season."
This will be a very good game defensively. Both teams are very athletic but I think the Johnnies get it done on their home floor. St. John's 67 Marquette 62