When you've lost six of your last eight games and sit in 8th place in your conference with a senior-laden team that was expected to make a run at their first NCAA Tournament appearance this season, naturally there are going to be a lot of questions surrounding your struggles. And right now, Steve Lavin and his St. John's Red Storm simply don't have any answers to those questions.
After handing Creighton their first Big East win of the season with a lackluster performance on Wednesday night, things have never been as low this season as they are right now for the Red Storm, who just one month ago were ranked number 15 in the nation heading into conference play.
Now with five conference losses already, if the Johnnies plan on avoiding becoming an afterthought on selection Sunday for the fourth straight season, they must find a way to pick up some momentum, any momentum, heading into the season's stretch run.
They'll have a golden opportunity to do that on Saturday afternoon when they take on Providence at Madison Square Garden.
How to Watch/Listen
The game will be an early 12 P.M. tip-off, and it will be televised by FOX, the second time in three games that the Johnnies will play a nationally televised game on the network. Gus Johnson and Jim Jackson will have the call for FOX, while John Minko and Brandon Tierney will have the radio broadcast on 570 AM (WMCA).
St. John's is currently a 3-point favorite(!) over Providence tomorrow.
Scouting St. John's
The Red Storm will enter The Garden on Sunday with a record of 13-7 overall, 2-5 in the Big East, and as noted earlier, as losers of six of their last eight. They've dropped two straight games and three of their last four, with their most recent loss coming to Creighton on Wednesday night.
St. John's will look to sweep the season series against Providence this season after an 83-70 road win on January 14th.
Leading the way for the Red Storm is D`Angelo Harrison, who's calf injury has been referenced so much this season that it's beginning to sound like a broken record, but that still remains the likely culprit behind his recent poor shooting over the past few weeks.
Harrison was able to score a team-high 18 points in Wednesday's loss, but he did so on just 4-15 shooting. Harrison has now gone four straight games without making more than five shots from the field, and if his shooting struggles continue, it's likely that the St. John's offense will struggle as well.
It's unclear whether or not Rysheed Jordan will be on the floor Saturday at tip-off, as he is currently listed as day-to-day after suffering a strained patella tendon on Wednesday night after playing just seven minutes in the loss.
Jordan had been playing what some would call the best basketball of his St. John's career over the past few weeks, and if he cannot go for St. John's on Saturday, it will only weaken the offense more, especially with Harrison still battling an injury himself.
In fact, if Jordan is out or even limited in any way on Saturday, that leaves the Red Storm with both of their top shot creators essentially non-existent in a game that they'll absolutely need both of them.
With Harrison struggling and Jordan either out or limited, the Johnnies will have to look towards Sir`Dominic Pointer and Phil Greene IV to pick up their scoring totals against the Friars. Pointer has already been playing out of his mind over the past few weeks, including a 13-point, 10-rebound performance on Wednesday, and that will need to carry over into this one.
The Friars make their way into this one winners of three straight and five of their last six Big East games. At 16-5 overall and 6-2 in the Big East, they are currently the top team in the conference, one half game ahead of the nationally-ranked Villanova Wildcats and Georgetown Hoyas.
They beat up on DePaul, 83-72, yesterday afternoon in a game that had to be rescheduled from Tuesday night due to the impending blizzard that struck the northeast earlier in the week.
LaDontae Henton not only leads Providence with just over 21 points per game, but he is also still the Big East's leading scorer at this point in the season, with nearly a two-point cushion over the conference's second leading scorer, D`Angelo Harrison.
Henton is also second on the team with an average of just under six rebounds per game for the Friars, who rank number 97 in the nation in rebounding. After mostly facing teams that have struggled with rebounding over their past few games yet being largely unable to take advantage of that, this could spell trouble for the Johnnies, who are still a respectable 114th in the nation in rebounding.
But Providence is lead largely by a two-headed attack this season, and the other head of that attack is a beast named Kris Dunn. The former McDonald's All-American Dunn, who is playing in his first full season in a Providence uniform this year, has been absolutely dominant for the Friars in 20 games this season.
He is second only to Henton on the team with an average of just under 15 points per game on 47% shooting from the field, but scoring is not the only thing in his repertoire. The 6'3" Dunn leads the team in rebounding, and he also leads the conference with just under eight assists per game and right around three steals per game.
Dunn truly can do it all, as evidenced in his last outing against DePaul, where the sophomore guard went off for a triple-double, 27 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists, all easily team-highs on the day.
Henton and Dunn do get a good deal of help from their teammates however, most notably Tyler Harris and Carson Desrosiers. The junior Harris has taken a slight step back in his scoring and rebounding from last season with the emergence of Dunn into the lineup, but he still averages a respectable 11 points and five rebounds per game.
Meanwhile Desrosiers is having the best statistical season of his collegiate career, setting career-highs in points, rebounds, assists, and blocks this season.
St. John's Keys to the Game
What does St. John's have to do on Saturday to stop their two-game skid at home? Well for the answer to that question, let's look towards what they did well in their last meeting against Providence, a victory just over two weeks ago.
Come out of the gate strong. This is not only important because it was a huge factor in the St. John's victory the last time these two met, but because of where St. John's is at this point in the season. Although Lavin would say otherwise, Red Storm players cannot be extremely confident in themselves going into Saturday's action.
I don't care how many seniors you have on a team, when you've lost five of seven conference games there are going to be some doubts in the locker room. For that reason it's extremely important for St. John's to get off to a hot start on Saturday just as they did in the last meeting between these two.
In that game, the Red Storm were able to jump out to a 12-point halftime lead, and led by as many as 17 early in the second half, and if they can duplicate that on Saturday and weather the inevitable Providence run, then they could duplicate their success from a fews weeks ago.
Have Greene become the primary scoring option with Harrison/Jordan limited. With D`Angelo Harrison still hurt and Rysheed Jordan either out or limited, St. John's will have to look towards other scoring options if they are going to pull out a victory on Saturday.
They really cannot ask for any more from Sir`Dominic Pointer, who has scored in double figures in each of his past five games, and it wouldn't be wise to rely on Chris Obekpa or even Jamal Branch as a consistent scoring option (although Branch had a season-high 17 points with Jordan out on Wednesday), so therefore Phil Greene becomes the next man up.
While he has still put up decent scoring numbers over the past few weeks, the Johnnies will need him to duplicate the game that he had the last time these two teams met, when he tied a season-high with 20 points. In that game Greene hit five three pointers and shot 7-13 from the field, but since then he has hit just five of his last 17 from downtown. If Greene could get going from beyond the arc, that makes things that much easier for the Red Storm offensively.
Don't get beat up on the boards. While containing Henton and Dunn should be a priority for the Red Storm, I just believe that it would be impractical to list that as a key to the game, so for that reason let's focus on rebounding.
In their last meeting, the Johnnies were dominated on the boards, 44-29, with freshman forward Ben Bentil grabbing down 10 of them. In that game, Chris Obekpa was only able to grab five rebounds for the Red Storm, and that cannot happen again in this one. St. John's also allowed 19 offensive rebounds in that game, and if that occurs in this one, there is no way that the Friars won't take advantage of it.
With the program at a crossroads, and the seat under Steve Lavin getting hotter and hotter as the losses pile up, things could really get ugly this season for St. John's if they cannot pick up a win in this one. While a win would not solve all of their problems, it would temporarily silence those calling for Lavin's job, even if that only lasts for a few days.
If these seniors want to make an NCAA Tournament appearance for what would be the first and only time of their lives, this is the time to get things going. No more excuses or pat's on the back for a good effort, it's time for this team and their coach to put up or shut up, and this may be their last opportunity to do so this season.
St. John's plays an inspired game but does not have any gas left in the tank as the game winds down, and they lose 78-73 to Providence.