As the Big East enters its last two weeks of the season, the top and bottom part of the standings are starting to take place. But as for the middle of the conference, it is very crowded with a chance of limited invitations to a big dance in March.
With limited spaces through the door to the NCAA dance floor, the matchup between St. John's (18-10, 8-7) and Xavier (18-9, 8-6) on Tuesday night a big one. Both teams are looking to rebound after tough losses on the road - the Johnnies lost a sloppy game at Villanova, and Sunday Xavier got ran out of the nation's capital by Georgetown.
St. John's should have their big men back, and Rysheed Jordan should make the after staying in Philadelphia to mourn a close relative shot on Saturday. The Johnnies should be at full strength for the rematch.
This game between two tournament hopefuls can be seen on Fox Sports 1 and will be called by Rich Ackerman and Tarik Turner, with a tip-off slated for a 7 PM start.
Scouting St. John's
This game is another big step in the journey to the tournament. A win for St. John's will give them an opportunity to move into a more secure position because of the schedule coming up. After Xavier, the Johnnies will host DePaul and then at Marquette, which could be tough because they are playing better of late.
"I think every game from here on out is a must-win game. We need to give it all we got because the season is on the line so that’s how we’re going to play," Phil Greene IV said Monday.
And for Xavier, after a trip to Madison Square Garden, they will host Creighton and Villanova with a game at Seton Hall in between. If you haven't been watching the rest of the Big East, it is time to; the race down the stretch is competitive.
These two teams were the inaugural game of the new Big East during the New Year's Eve Marathon back in December. This showdown in Cincinnati found the Musketeers beating the Johnnies 70-60.
This was a point in the season where the Johnnies struggled to start off halves. St. John's started the game with an 11-2 run.
In the second half, it was the complete opposite.
Xavier started out on a 13-0 run which led to a struggling second half for every Red Storm player trying to get back in the game. Xavier head coach Chris Mack had an answer for everything Steve Lavin was trying, packing the paint and forcing the Johnnies to be ineffective inside the arc (shot 26%).
"They beat us before. We don’t have a winning streak right now. We’re going to have plenty of motivation to play this game," D'Angelo Harrison said getting ready for Tuesday night.
St. John's played very tough at Villanova during the weekend but just made more mistakes in an, "ugly, grind it out Big East game."
Playing without new dad Orlando Sanchez and a less than 100% Chris Obekpa, the Red Storm found themselves having little depth, believe it or not. They had the bodies but they didn't have the bodies that could score. When top scorer D'Angelo Harrison struggles, St. John's at times find themselves struggling to score themselves.
At times during the year Phil Greene and Rysheed Jordan have showed potential of being that scoring help that could take more pressure off Harrison and Jakarr Sampson. Secondary scoring could be a determining factor for this team.
Xavier, during that rough loss at Georgetown, went on a terrible offensive drought in the second half. At one point, the Musketeers found themselves scoreless from the field for 12 minutes. Georgetown dominated from start to finish, shooting 52% from the field and pressuring Xavier.
"We were overwhelmed," Mack said on Saturday. "We had a tough time bringing the ball into the half-court, their contained press turned into more of a turnover press." Like St. John's, Xavier struggled to find some secondary scoring as they only had nine points from their bench.
St. John's is long and athletic enough to bother any team in full court pressure. The Johnnies love to speed teams up and play at their pace so look for them to try and force a lot of turnovers against Xavier like Georgetown did.
When asked about a key to what Xavier has to do to get a victory, Xavier assistant coach Rick Carter hinted at the turnover problem. "The Musketeers need to take care of the ball and play at their pace, we can't get sped up because of their pressure," stated Carter.
Another Big East game that is tough to pick. Villanova was not a must win, but this one definitely is. St. John's recognizes this and takes care of business. 78-72, St. John's keeps fighting.
What's your score prediction?