The afterglow of a big road win against Cincinnati hasn't faded; the Red Storm come into tonight's matchup against Rutgers knowing they can hang with the best, but that a big win in isolation doesn't mean much but a highlight at the end of the year.
"I mentioned to the kids that there are those opportunities that present themselves where you can get a signature victory," Steve Lavin recounted. "Often times, those can be momentum shifts, but if you don't sustain it, it's a letdown."
St. John's welcomes to the World's Most Famous Arena a Rutgers team coming off of a big win at home against Pittsburgh. Rutgers is the first of three games to be played in the Garden in front of the home fans; the stretch is a chance for the Red Storm to make a move towards the upper echelon of the league.
The Big East is proving to be unpredictable, parity-laced subway jostle, and St. John's faces a team with similar hopes, similar youth, and similar athleticism.
Last year, the brawl of a game in New Jersey was decided by a tip-jam from Dane Miller and a missed half-court heave from D`Angelo Harrison.
Tonight's may come down to the wire as well.
Mood music: L'il Wayne, Got Money
Tip Off: 7:00 PM Eastern
Vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (10-3, 1-1 Big East; coach, Mike Rice)
Location: Madison Square Garden (capacity: 19,979)
TV: MSG | ESPN3 Announcing team: Mike Corey and Bob Valvano Radio: Bloomberg 1130
The last game was an outlier for St. John's; it'll be hard for the team to win shooting like that, even with the defensive coverage and switching zones. The Scarlet Knights are fairly young, but come with some meat in the paint and an ability to clog the game up on defense, much like Cincinnati.
That clogging doesn't lead to turnovers, but it does keep opponents from shooting inside of the arc. The Scarlet Knight opponents shoot over 38% of their shots from outside the three-point line against the Knights' mix of zone and man looks.
Finding shots against the chaotic Knights' defense can be a struggle at times; they come with a lot of fight. The Red Storm will need to be patient and opportunistic.
The Knights have a pair of very good rebounders on both ends in Wally Judge and Kadeem Jack; both are 6'9" but Judge packs on 250 pounds to Jack's 225. Judge will make himself available for post up opportunities, a different look than many of St. John's opponents this season. Chris Obekpa and the defensive effort must work to deny him good position and clean passes.
On the perimeter, Eli Carter is the player most likely to shoot - especially in the halfcourt. Not all of his shots are great ideas, but he's scoring on 51% of his twos and 33% of his threes, while drawing fouls.
Next to him, the diminutive Myles Mack is an electric scorer in transition. He's willing to pull up for a three off of opponent makes or misses, and he has to be located on the break. Both assist on around 20% of their teammates' shots while on the floor.
Dane Miller's length is a constant x-factor; he can be great, or he can make inexplicable passes.
Mike Poole and Jerome Segears provide calming minutes for Mike Rice's team, which can find itself in stretches where they struggle to make the correct, simple play or jack up bad shots to try and stop runs by their opponent.
Prediction: St. John's matches up well against the Scarlet Knights, but will need to be effective in transition and will need to be stout in the paint. A 67-64 win by the Johnnies over the Jersey rivals.