For the St. John's Red Storm (16-10, 8-6 Big East), today's tilt against the Pittsburgh Panthers in Madison Square Garden at noon is a big game for NCAA Tournament legitimacy. They can still make the NCAA Tournament or other postseason with a loss; but a win would put the Storm on the right side of the bubble, and not leave their fate up to the failures of bubble teams and a magical Big East Tournament run.
| Tip Off: 12:00 PM Eastern
Vs. #20/ #22 Pittsburgh Panthers
(20-7, 8-6 Big East; coach, Jamie Dixon)
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
TV: MSG | ESPN3
Radio: Bloomberg 1130
Announcers: Eamon McAnaney and John Celestand
The Big East is tight and full of parity. It's been hard for teams to distinguish themselves from each other in the scrum of good-not-quite-great teams.
With Pittsburgh also at the eight win mark, this game is a chance to right their own rudder after two losses to ranked teams.
Both teams have won seven of their last ten games, with the Red Storm coming off of a win over South Florida. Both teams are much improved from last season; St. John's surpassed their 13 wins of last year nearly a month ago, and Pitt passed last year's regular season mark of 16 wins around the same time.
It's late in the year, time for the Red Storm to take a win or two that they weren't expected to. If they're going to get to the NCAA Tournament, that's the way they need to get there... just like Dwight Hardy and crew did in the Garden in 2011.
Scouting St. John's
After a solid win over the South Florida Bulls, coach Steve Lavin explained that he was disappointed in the lack of execution (which sparked a blistering speech to his team after a timeout):
"There was a stretch in the second half where we lost the concentration level that we need to have to put good teams away. We can’t have those lapses because that’s when teams will go on runs against us. I understand teams are going to make runs, I just wasn’t happy with our closeouts and a couple of rebounds where we didn’t put a body on someone."
The Storm continue to play low turnover offense (TOs on 17% of their possessions, third best in league play) to maximize their chances (and streaky shooting); the defense, especially inside the arc, where opponents shoot 45%, is the key. Steve Lavin says he wants to get Christian Jones and Felix Balamou more involved on Sunday, as well.
The Pittsburgh Panthers were streaking up until two games against ranked opponents, Marquette and Notre Dame.
Jamie Dixon's squad lost both games, giving up 60% shooting inside the arc against Marquette and going 0/8 from beyond the arc versus Notre Dame, along with allowing the Fighting Irish to rebound 40% of their misses in one game. Each one of those results is an outlier; and tied with St. John's in the standings, one can expect the Panthers to come out with a fury and fire to get themselves on the right track.
Jamie Dixon has his Panthers closer to his ideal than they were last year. This season, they are physical, tougher defensively at the rim...
But after the Notre Dame game, Dixon was bothered by his team's lack of aggressiveness.
We got out-rebounded, gave up 60-percent from the field, didn’t guard well enough, and our shot selection wasn’t very good. I thought even with the lead I didn’t feel like our offense was very good. I thought we played hard defensively when we got some turnovers and steals that got us some transition buckets, but again, I didn’t think we played well even when we had the lead, to be honest. That really speaks to 40 minutes of not playing to the level we’ve been playing to. We’ve got to get something fixed and we’ve got to get it changed."
Obviously, with a week to prepare, Dixon plans on a physical, defense-first approach to the game.
Pitt excels with a stout defense - third best per-possession in the conference. Their keys are forcing opponents out to the perimeter to take threes and making them miss, and a strong rebounding effort on both ends of the floor. They rebound 37% of their own misses (fifth in Big East) while grabbing 67% of opponents' missed shots (4th in the league).
Keys to the Game
Be on the line... and be better on the line.
Big time performance from D`Angelo.
Prediction: St. John's will battle, but lose because of an advantage in offensive rebounding from the Panthers, 65-63.