St. John's welcomes the DePaul Blue Demons to Madison Square Garden for a senior day matchup (with actual seniors!), the Johnnies last home game of the regular season to kick off the hoops action on Sunday, March 2.
It's not the sexy resume-building matchup of Xavier or Villanova, two games where wins could have given confidence that the Johnnies were a "lock" for the NCAA Tournament. But in its own way, this game is a must-win against a Blue Demons squad that defeated St. John's 77-75 in the Chicagoland area.
St. John's can't afford to overlook any team, especially one of the losses that defined their slow start to the season and current precarious position.
This game between a desperate St. John's team and a struggling DePaul squad will be on CBS Sports Network at 12:00 PM, called by Marv Albert with Steve Lappas and Wally Szczerbiak.
Scouting St. John's
St. John's will be without guard Rysheed Jordan, who will be back in Philadelphia mourning the relative who was killed last weekend while the Johnnies played Villanova just miles away.
For the first time since 2011, Senior Day features players who have logged significant competitive minutes; we honor the contributions of God`sgift Achiuwa, Marc-Antoine Bourgault and Orlando Sanchez, all who came from the junior college ranks to bolster the Red Storm roster.
Congratulations to all three, who have seen varying degrees of playing time as St. John's looks for combinations that work together; against DePaul, St. John's should be able to build enough of a cushion to get them all in the game.
Then again, the previous DePaul game featured 15 lead changes and nearly four minutes without a point for the Red Storm at the end of the game, allowing the Blue Demons to win at home.
This time around, St. John's has a more set rotation, with Rysheed Jordan, D`Angelo Harrison and JaKarr Sampson leading the way. The team won six in a row before the recent two game losing streak against a pair of tough defensive teams.
The two-game losing streak has seen the Red Storm struggle to score - especially D`Angelo Harrison, who has shot 4/17 inside the arc, 1/9 from outside the arc, but 8/8 from the free throw line. Along with Harrison's drought, the team hasn't been able to generate a defense-oriented run; against Xavier, the Johnnies had 0 fast break points.
Can Harrison step up against the often porous Depaul defense? Can someone else step up and score? Can the Red Storm defense generate fast break points?
DePaul has had a rough year, once again, but are coming off of a home win against the Seton Hall Pirates. "It's a great feeling to win," guard Brandon Young said after the Demons broke a 10-game losing streak, "and now we look forward to the next game."
DePaul has struggled not only with losing, but with rumors of a coaching change and with the departure of Cleveland Melvin, the team's leading scorer. Averaging 16.7 points per game, Melvin was suspended for reasons unknown (but seeming to deal with not handling his responsibilities as a senior), and left classes in January.
With Melvin gone, the Demons are led by senior guard Brandon Young (15.7 points/ game, 3.7 assists/ game) and freshman Billy Garrett (12.4 points/g, 3.2 assist/g), a likely choice for Big East Rookie of the Year. At the position Melvin used to play - a tall wing or stretch four - the Demons have deployed newcomers Forrest Robinson and Greg Sequele to varying degrees of success.
Center Sandi Marcius (5.5 ppg/ 4.5 rebounds/g) and speedy guard Durrell McDonald (5.6 ppg) have also enjoyed extended time, while returnees Charles McKinney and Jamee Crockett have seen their time reduced. Freshman Tommy Hamilton IV (8 points/ g) missed the last game with a stomach virus, but scored 13 against the Red Storm in the DePaul win.
The team's fundamental flaws remain. They're a team that depends on pressure and turnovers to generate points, but give up points on every level - at the rim, from beyond the arc and by sending teams to the free throw line. They thrive on chaos, but the chaos tends to turn on them.
Still, DePaul has fought in every game they've played, and continue to be a pesky out.
The Johnnies need this game. Will they play down to their opponent? Will the crowd come out to support the team? Prediction: 81-65, as the Johnnies take out their frustrations on the Demons.
What's your score prediction?