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Game #23: St. John's basketball at Cincinnati

We’re going to learn something about St. John’s tonight, for sure. Tonight’s game is, I suppose, their showcase game; it’s nationally televised and against a mid-tier Big East opponent.

If the three game winning streak is an indication of St. John’s improvement, it will show tonight. If not, this St. John’s blog will be looking at articles talking about Coach Norm Roberts’ job, lambasting the players, the administration, and the like. They’re walking on a college basketball tightrope here … and something has to change.

Tonight, the Red Storm have to concentrate on these Keys to the Game:

Execution. With or without Anthony Mason Jr, the team has to make good, decisive offensive moves. Pass with crispness. Get to spots where players can shoot. This team is different than the one that defeated Cincinnati a month ago—Sean Evans is playing decently and proving adept at getting to the free throw line, and the team is executing an offense.

Rebounding. Cincy might kill the Red Storm on the boards tonight. A revenge game, where the Bearcats feel they were outmuscled? St. John’s has to keep them off the glass at both ends, and make plays off of the offensive rebounds. Expect Hrycaniuk, Williamson, and McClain to get a lot of time to grab boards.

DJ Kennedy vs PittNegating the Other Players. Williamson and Vaughn are the main offensive threats for the Bearcats. St. John’s has to worry about Jamual Warren, who was in foul trouble in the other game. His passing and ball handling allow Deonta Vaughn to be more of an offensive threat.

A trio of articles on tonight’s game:

NY Post - No Place Like Road for St. John’s The Post has Anthony mason Jr. out for tonight’s game.

At 4-7 in the league, St. John's (10-12) has a chance to wake up tomorrow with a legitimate shot to make the Big East tournament in March. Seton Hall (5-7), DePaul (5-7) and Providence (4-8) lost their games last night. A St. John's win tonight would create a logjam of teams with five league wins. And St. John's hosts Villanova on Saturday night in the Garden.

"I just want to win a game," said St. John's coach Norm Roberts. "Winning three on the road would be awesome because I would say it proves how much our young kids have improved and matured. But we don't have the luxury of thinking about streaks or what games are down the road. The only game we can think about is Cincinnati." - The Storm is Turning

You can point to many things that have helped the Red Storm go on this streak. The most important thing might be the play of sophomore guard Larry Wright. During this winning streak, Wright is averaging close to 14.3 points a game and starting to get back some of the aggressiveness we saw from him at the beginning of the season.

If Wright's performance off the bench isn't the reason, then maybe it's the trimming of rotation by Roberts. We've seen the starting lineup of Eugene Lawrence, Malik Boothe, D.J. Kennedy, Justin Burrell and Sean Evans come in and speed up the tempo and it has really helped. What this lineup gives up in size, it gains back in quickness.

And when Wright and Paris Horne get into the game, the speed picks up even more.

Cincinnati Enquirer – Cronin Finds Kindred Spirit

Trying to rebuild the University of Cincinnati basketball program has been a massive undertaking for head coach Mick Cronin, but not as difficult, Cronin said, as the reclamation project that Norm Roberts has undertaken at St. John's.

"I'm not trying to do it in the New York market," Cronin said. "Everybody's got the answer when it comes to basketball where Norm's coaching. In my opinion, he's got the toughest job in this conference."

Both coaches, whose teams will face each other at 7 p.m. today at Fifth Third Arena, are trying to return programs with great traditions to national prominence, and both seem to be making strides in that direction.

The Bearcats are 11-12 overall and 6-5 in the Big East Conference, tied for sixth place after winning only two conference games in Cronin's first season last year.

St. John's is 10-12 overall and 4-7 in the conference, but has won its last three games, two of which it was forced to play without Anthony Mason Jr., its leading scorer who has been hampered by an ankle contusion.

"We hope we can get him back," Roberts said, "but we're not going to rush anything with him. It's been a nagging injury all year. There's a chance he could play."

Roberts, in his fourth year at St. John's, has a 47-60 record and one appearance in the Big East Tournament to his credit.

Unlike Cronin, he's had to deal with a two-year NCAA probation and a school-imposed reduction in scholarships from 13 to 12 that ended last year.