As St. John's sits right smack in the middle of the NCAA Tournament bubble with just under a month to play in the regular season, they obviously cannot afford any more setbacks if they plan on turning around a so far disappointing campaign. With tough games still remaining on the road at Villanova, Georgetown, and Xavier, the Red Storm simply cannot afford to drop one like tonight, at home against the 12-13 DePaul Blue Demons.
A win tonight would likely get the Johnnies on the right side of the bubble for the time being and give them a bit of momentum going forward, but similar to Saturday's game against Creighton, a loss would likely be the final nail in the coffin to this team's tournament hopes.
St. John's took care of business when they needed to on Saturday against Creighton, can they do it again tonight?
How to Watch/Listen
The game will be a late 9 P.M. tip-off at Carnesecca Arena, and it will be broadcasted by CBS Sports Network with a team of Rich Waltz, Doug Gottlieb, and Jon Rothstein on the call. The radio broadcast with John Minko and Brandon Tierney can be found on 570 AM (WMCA).
St. John's sits as a 9.5-point favorite at the moment.
Scouting St. John's
After the weekend's win St. John's still sits in eighth place in the Big East, however two victories in their last three games have gotten them to 4-6 in the conference and 15-8 overall. They are listed by many in the college basketball world as a team right on the bubble, heightening every game's importance for the rest of the season.
After this one, the Red Storm will play a pair of tough road games against Xavier and Georgetown, making this game even more of a must-win situation for them.
D`Angelo Harrison still leads the Red Storm with just under 19 points per game, and he had arguably his best game in nearly a month over the weekend against Creighton. Harrison scored 21 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and dished out a season-high six assists in the easy victory against Creighton, with the 21 points being his highest scoring output since January 6th against Villanova.
With Harrison's shooting looking much better over the past three games, St. John's fans can only hope that the cause of his ineffective play before then was simply due to a minor injury that he had been playing through, and not something more serious that will continue to nag at him going forward.
Staying in the backcourt, Rysheed Jordan also played one of the best games of his career on Saturday, dropping a career-high 25 points on an impressive 9-12 shooting while picking up six rebounds and four assists along the way. Jordan appeared to flourish in the small guard-oriented lineup that the Red Storm went with over the weekend, as he was getting wide open jumpers for much of the afternoon, which led to him draining a career-high six 3-pointers.
It will probably be unlikely that St. John's will run that lineup any more this season, but we'll keep an eye on what Steve Lavin has planned.
In the frontcourt for the Johnnies Sir`Dominic Pointer continues to flourish, and he was named to his third straight Big East Honor Roll on Monday, however there is much uncertainly surrounding his shot-blocking partner Chris Obekpa.
After Saturday's game in which Obekpa injured himself after playing only a few seconds, Lavin made it clear that he would not be starting for an indefinite period of time. As of Monday Obekpa had been practicing with the team, but it appears that his status still remains up in the air for tonight.
DePaul has dropped six of their last nine games after a 3-0 start to conference play to stumble to an even 6-6 Big East record and a 12-13 overall record. Over the weekend they made a nice late-game run on the road against Butler, however it did come up just short in a 83-73 loss.
Despite the hot start to conference play, it's looking almost certain that this will be yet another year without an NCAA Tournament bid for the Blue Demons, although they have shown the ability to play with most in the conference, making a Big East Tournament run a slight possibility.
DePaul's leading scorers are the tag-team duo of Billy Garrett Jr. and Myke Henry, each of whom average right around 13 points per game. Garrett Jr. is coming off what was one of his worst games of the season over the weekend against the Bulldogs, as he scored a season-low six points on just 1-6 shooting, despite dishing out five assists in 27 minutes.
He played well against St. John's in their first meeting this season, scoring a then season-high 20 points, aided largely by a perfect 13-13 mark from the foul line, in a 71-67 DePaul victory in overtime on January 18.
Henry is not only the Blue Demons second-leading scorer, but he also leads the team in rebounding with right around six boards per game, although he has grabbed double-digit rebounds only twice this season.
The junior forward has scored in double figures in seven of his last eight games, including a 19-point outburst against St. John's in their previous meeting that also included 3-5 shooting from downtown and a season-high 12 rebounds.With Chris Obekpa's status possibly in question tonight there's a chance that we could see Henry control the boards once again.
The Blue Demons are still one of the worst teams in the nation at rebounding, with their 30.8 rebounds per game ranking them 323rd out of 351 teams in the nation.
St. John's Keys to the Game
Here's what St. John's will have to do at Carnesecca Arena tonight if they plan on avoiding the sweep against the struggling Blue Demons.
Come out of the game strong, again. I mentioned this in the Creighton preview as well, and while it seems like such a cliché thing to say, it's imperative that the Red Storm come out strong with the same energy that we saw over the weekend. In that game St. John's gave no hope to a bad Creighton team that they were going to pull off the upset, and they'll need to do the same again tonight.
What we saw in the first meeting between these two teams was the same thing that we saw in the Red Storm's first game against Creighton. St. John's was unable to pile on a big lead in the first half, and then DePaul got going in the second, got their confidence up, and eventually rode that to a close win.
There's no reason why St. John's shouldn't put their foot down early in this one and roll to an easy victory, although as many of us know, it seems like nothing will come easy this season in the Big East.
Get support for Pointer down low, especially if Obekpa is limited. As you can see just above, DePaul is easily the worst team in the Big East and one of the worst teams in the entire nation at rebounding. However, that played absolutely zero role in the first meeting between these two teams, as the Blue Demons actually managed to out rebound St. John's 43-30 in that one.
Sir`Dominic Pointer and Chris Obekpa combined for just four total rebounds that day in a losing effort, and with Obekpa not starting and possibly limited due to injury, it will be no guarantee that the Red Storm will improve upon that lopsided margin.
If Lavin decides to keep Obekpa limited in this one, he will need to look towards bench guys like Joey De La Rosa and Christian Jones to step up, which is something that they have rarely been asked to do this season.
Open up the bench. In January's overtime loss, St. John's had four players play over 35 minutes and two guys play 40-plus minutes. This clearly ended up biting them on that day, as they simply ran out of gas in the game's closing moments.
On Saturday we saw that some on the Red Storm bench can hold their own in somewhat extended action, with Felix Balamou scoring five points and grabbing four rebounds in 23 minutes after getting the start, and Amar Alibegovic scoring seven in just 15 minutes.
No one is saying that those guys should be playing 30 minutes tomorrow night, but against a team like DePaul they should be getting some decent minutes to spell the St. John's starters who could use some rest going into the stretch run of the season.
The Bottom Line
As we get closer and closer to March in the final season for this St. John's senior class, the clock is ticking on the Red Storm to make their move towards the NCAA Tournament. With the hole that they've dug themselves in conference play once again this season, they can only afford a few more losses in the Big East if they plan on being on the right side of the bubble come selection Sunday, and this should not be one of them.
With a few tough games still remaining on their schedule and a chance to build up some momentum going into those games, just like their previous game over the weekend, it's hard to call this one anything but a must-win for St. John's.
St. John's comes out energized early and rides that to a 76-64 victory.
What's your score prediction?