Shabazz Napier and the Huskies come to town. - David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Old foes and dynamic guards meet for the only time this season. And Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie is letting his team know he expects a Big East Tournament-level performance from them.
Kevin Ollie is motivating his Connecticut Huskies team by reminding them that this is their last trip to Madison Square Garden, given their APR-related ban from postseason activities (implemented by the school and agreed upon by the NCAA as punishment).
"It is going to be a special game," said head coach Kevin Ollie. "We are going to relish in this opportunity and it is a tremendous honor that we will take with respect."
"I’m not really nervous but it is a bit different from a regular game," said New York guard Omar Calhoun.
| Tip Off: 7:00 PM Eastern
Vs. Connecticut Huskies
(15-5, 5-3 Big East; coach, Kevin Ollie)
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
TV: ESPNU | ESPN3 Radio: Bloomberg 1130
Announcers: Adam Amin + Tim Welsh
Yes, this is the final time this year that players like Omar Calhoun will see the Garden floor in this, the first year AC (after [Jim] Calhoun).
And the Johnnies know it's a big game - both to regain the early-season Big East momentum and because of the opponent.
"It’s going to be a very big game," guard Phil Greene IV said. "The energy is going to be high, they’re going to come out ready to play. It’s Madison Square Garden and everyone loves to play there, so we’ve just got to be ready and know that it’s going to be a tough game."
It will be tougher without point guard and the team's best perimeter disruptor Jamal Branch, diagnosed with a sprained MCL and likely out for the game after having Georgetown's Nate Lubick fall on his leg.
"We’ve just got to keep playing hard and hope he gets well soon," swingman Sir`Dominic Pointer said of not having Branch. "It’ll just take maturity. We can’t go down, we’ve either got to stay the same or go up. I prefer to go up."
Scouting St. John's
St. John's comes off of a loss to the Georgetown Hoyas in what is by far the toughest four-game stretch in their season. The game saw D`Angelo Harrison shut out from the field, earning two points at the line.
But the game also featured continued growth from Jakarr Sampson, who is attacked the rim a few times and drew fouls, and an offensive explosion from Marc-Antoine Bourgault, the junior sniper from Monroe College who has seen scant minutes as a member of the Johnnies.
With Jamal Branch is out with a sprained MCL, there is a solid chance Bourgault will receive the minutes he needs to show his outside shooting skill and add a new dimension to the Red Storm's Gobi Desert* offense.
Head coach Steve Lavin indicated that Marco will see minutes. "UConn likes to play zone defense so Marco will have an advantage," Lavin said. "He will help stretch the defense, which will make the big men operate in the post, and also open the driving game so we can attack the zone."
Adding Bourgault may create a different look for the Johnnies; will he hurt on defense? Can he keep up the hot shooting from the Georgetown game? Can D`Angelo rediscover his stroke?
*y'know. Cold and dry.
For your goth metal mood: Danzig, "Killer Wolf"
The Huskies are paced by the quickness of Shabazz Napier (18 ppg, 4.5 assists/g in Big East play) and Ryan Boatright (17 ppg, 4.5 a/g), two dynamic slashing 6'1" guards who are one of the highest scoring backcourts in the Big East. Shabazz has been the better shooter (49% inside the arc, 44% outside of the arc) of the two, and adds rebounds, leaping into chaos for long rebounds.
Both will drive into the paint to draw defenders and kick the ball out to open shooters.
"We need to keep our defense tight while pressuring the ball," said Lavin of the Johnnies' approach.
Complementing the two are New York guard Omar Calhoun (9.9 ppg), who looks to score from the perimeter first. The Christ the King grad is friends with Chris Obekpa. Despite shooting under 31%, he is a dangerous shooter with his feet set.
DeAndre Daniels (12 ppg, 5.4 rebounds/ g, 1.3 blocks/ g) plays the "stretch-4" for the Huskies. He's a 6'8" wing who can run and play inside a bit for Kevin Ollie's team. He'd play on the perimeter more, but the Huskies have low-impact interior play from junior Tyler Olander (5.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 62% on FG) and Enosch Wolf (3.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.1 bpg, 63% FG). Both will hit the shots they take, but their scoring attempts are limited. Still, both are big bodies. Wolf blocks over a shot per game despite playing 23 minutes per contest.
The Huskies get bench minutes from scrappy Neils Giffey and guard RJ Evans.
On defense, expect a lot of ball pressure and some extended trapping at times; the Huskies look to generate steals.
Keys to the Game
The Gotham asylum.
St. John's has to generate transition scores themselves, taking advantage of a Husky team that has helter-skelter offensive moments, taking quick shots - much like the Johnnies do. Amir Garrett and Sir`Dominic Pointer have to be factors in this game - and they are bigger factors in chaotic contests.
No giving up.
The gang activity must continue.
St. John's, for once, faces a front line that they match up well against. Daniels and JaKarr are both slim shooting forwards; Chris Obekpa is as offensively challenged as Olander and Wolf. It's important to work the glass and end possessions against a good-scoring team.
Prediction: A tight one. The Johnnies surprise the oddsmakers and win, 65-64.