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Big East Tournament: #5 St. John's Red Storm vs. #13 Rutgers

Big East Tournament reset

#13 (in the Big East Tournament) Rutgers defeated the #12 (in the Big East Tournament) Seton Hall Pirates in overtime of the Big East Tournament's opening round, 76-70.

The Knights shot more free throws than the Pirates took, and shot much better from the field, but the Pirates had 13 more shot attempts. The Knights look to continue a surprise late run and make themselves more viable for the NIT, possibly, with today's game against #5 (in the BE Tournament) St. John's.

Meanwhile, St. John's is hoping some home court cooking can help propel them to a Big East Championship. This is not pie-in-the-sky dream - the Garden does Rumble for the Red Storm. They have taken back the Garden, and the hearts of New York City fans. With a few more wins, that little bit of magic can grow into a legend, and wins in the Big East Tournament can better the Johnnies' seeding in the NCAA Tournament.

More on the matchup, below the fold.

Last time the St. John's Red Storm (20-10, 12-6 in the Big East) and Rutgers Scarlet Knights (15-16, 5-13 Big East) met on the basketball court at Carnesecca Arena, Rutgers badly outshot St. John's. They played the Red Storm tough, losing 58-56 on a Justin Brownlee layup with 4 seconds left in the game. St. John's was held to 2 of 11 (18.2%) shooting from outside the arc, and 16 of 38 (42%) inside the arc; the difference in the game was the disparity in turnovers 23 to 10 and in free throws (31 to 14) that led the Red Storm to victory.

At the end of the first half, despite the turnovers the Red Storm forced, Rutgers was feeling strangely fine, tied with the Johnnies despite not being able to handle their pressure.

Cause for concern? The Scarlet Knights are much the same team; and Rutgers really held the Johnnies down defensively. And that should worry the Red Storm, who are hoping to ride homecourt advantage to a Big East Tournament championship.

Since that last matchup with the other local team that wears red, the Red Storm had an explosive February, rocketing into the national rankings behind the scoring of Dwight Hardy and a pressure defense that has stepped its game up. And the Johnnies have been much, much better in the large friendly confines of Madison Square Garden than in Carnesecca Arena.

The Scarlet Knights still do two things well - defend with energy and handle the ball well, despite their miscues against St. John's in early February. Mike Rice's club will not wilt and go away like some other teams, or fold in the face of pressure. Despite a lack of depth, there will be quality man-to-man defense on most possessions.

On offense, the Knights will look to move the ball around the court methodically and get touches in the paint for guys like Gilvydas Biruta... and whoever mans the post when he's in foul trouble. The Knights will hit a number of threes in any game, usually led by forward Jonathan Mitchell (who can score inside as well) and James Beatty; Mike Coburn is a threat as well.

But Rutgers fouls, fouls, and fouls a lot, something the Red Storm can take advantage of in today's game. The post players, in particular, have a high-energy, hacktastic approach.

St. John's can win if they play with their high energy defense. Some other on-court issues to watch out for:

St. John's needs to:

Protect the ball from Rutgers' defense. The Rutgers defenders are pesky; they may not seek turnovers all the time, but the Red Storm aren't always careful with the ball. D.J. Kennedy and Dwight Hardy have to watch where they are passing.

Generate points. Scoring against their defense can be difficult. If the game ends up a sludge match, the Red Storm have to get Dwight Hardy and Justin Burrell and Brownlee to the line.

Force turnovers/ get into transition. The Red Storm are far better when scoring in transition and off of turnovers.

The Red Storm CANNOT allow Rutgers to:

Dominate the offensive glass/ paint. Second chance points could make this game slower and uglier than St. John's wants it to be. The Red Storm's post players have to get good position on defense and keep Rutgers' Biruta from establishing position and getting ready to score in the post; he is very active and tough to defend.

Get Jonathan Mitchell or James Beatty hot. If Rutgers is going to win this afternoon, it will be with the three-pointer. St. John's has to defend their perimeter offerings and stifle their shooting overall.

Hang around. If St. John's has the lead, they have to make smart plays and hit their free throws. The previous game needed to be put away earlier.