For a second straight season the St. John's Red Storm sit right on the NCAA Tournament bubble with only a few games left to play. A season which started out so promising, took a turn for the worse as conference play began, but has since rebounded now has five games remaining, and those five games will determine the life of the Red Storm going into March.
Will the Red Storm finish the season strong behind a senior class looking to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance? Or will they falter down the stretch for a second straight season and miss out on postseason play?
Those questions will begin to find their answers tomorrow afternoon when the Johnnies will play host to the Seton Hall Pirates at Carnesecca Arena.
How to Watch/Listen
The game will be another early 12 P.M. tip-off and it will be nationally televised by FOX with Joe Davis and Donny Marshall on the call. The radio broadcast with John Minko and Brandon Tierney can be heard on your FM dial on 98.7 WEPN-FM.
St. John's is currently a 7.5-point favorite tomorrow afternoon.
Scouting St. John's
The Red Storm return to Carnesecca Arena tomorrow with a record 17-9 overall and 6-7 in the conference. After a 1-4 start to Big East play, they have rebounded to win five of their last eight games to pull themselves into sixth place in the conference.
The Johnnies have also won four straight Big East home games, as they have not fallen at home to a Big East opponent at home since they lost to Villanova on January 6. Following this game they will close out a three-game home stand against Xavier on Tuesday and Georgetown on February 28.
D`Angelo Harrison still ranks second in the Big East with an average of just under 19 points per game, however he is once again battling a calf injury that he suffered near the end of the first half during last Saturday's victory against Xavier.
Harrison scored just five points on 0-9 shooting from the field during the Red Storm's loss to Georgetown on Tuesday, and Steve Lavin ruled him a game-time decision for Saturday's affair. Prior to the injury, Harrison had finally appeared to regain his scoring form after a period of struggle for about a month, but having him out or even limited will be a huge blow to the Red Storm, primarily on the offensive end.
Also a game-time decision for St. John's tomorrow will be Chris Obekpa, who is still battling what is now being called a "right mid-foot sprain" that he suffered on February 7. The junior shot-blocker has been extremely limited in his past two games after missing one game with the injury, and it's unclear just how much the Johnnies can expect from him tomorrow afternoon.
Either way, his presence on the court, no matter how limited, should still have an effect on Seton Hall's offensive game plan coming into the game, as he swatted away five shots in the first meeting between these two on December 31.
If Harrison and Obekpa do struggle to find a rhythm on the court tomorrow, St. John's will obviously look towards their other three impact players, Sir`Dominic Pointer, Rysheed Jordan, and Phil Greene IV, to elevate their play and carry the team together.
Pointer has been doing everything that he can to keep the hobbled Red Storm from fading into irrelevance this season on both ends of the floor. Aside from averaging a career-high 13.1 points per game, Sir`Dom also ranks third in the Big East in both blocks and steals per game, while also ranking fourth in the conference in rebounding.
Greene and Jordan are each averaging career-highs in points per game as well, however Jordan has struggled mightily in his past two outings, scoring just 11 points combined while turning the ball over eight times. His last outing against the Pirates saw him score 11 points and grab four rebounds in the game prior to his short-lived leave of absence from the team.
On the other hand, Greene IV is probably playing the best basketball of his Red Storm career, and it really could not be coming at a better time in the season. He has scored 15-plus points in three straight games and four of his last six, and he'll be counted on to provide a good deal of the St. John's scoring load tomorrow.
Scouting Seton Hall
Once ranked in the top 25 just last month, the Pirates have dropped five straight games and eight of their last 10 to fall to 15-11 overall and 5-9 in the Big East. They've dropped to eighth place in the conference and have fallen completely off the NCAA Tournament bubble in that stretch, and following this game they will take on Creighton at home on February 28.
Seton Hall will be without their leading scorer, Sterling Gibbs, in this one as he serves the first game of a two-game suspension that was dealt to him after he threw an elbow to the face of Ryan Arcidiacono in the Pirates 80-54 loss to Villanova on Monday.
Gibbs had been averaging just under 17 points per game on the season, good for fourth place in the conference, and he dropped a team-high 25 points and dished out eight assists in the last meeting between these two on December 31.
The Pirates will also be without Jaren Sina in this one after he left the team a few weeks ago. Sina had been scoring an even seven points per game on the season, and he tied a season-high with 14 points when the Pirates upset a 15th-ranked St. John's team in the Prudential Center. With both Gibbs and Sina not on the court tomorrow, Seton Hall will be without arguably their top two 3-point shooters.
As for the Seton Hall players that will actually be on the court tomorrow, Isaiah Whitehead leads the way with just over 12 points per game. He missed nine straight games from the end of December to the end of January, but since his return on January 31, the Pirates have gone just 1-5. He has scored in double figures in four of his last six games since returning, including 20 against Providence and 15 against Villanova in The Hall's last game.
In the frontcourt for the Pirates will be Angel Delgado and Brandon Mobley, who are their two leading rebounders on the season. Delgado leads the Big East with just under 10 rebounds per game on the season, and he killed the Red Storm with 13 points and 12 rebounds in their last meeting.
Mobley also put up a double double for Seton Hall in that one with 12 points and 10 rebounds, as they would go on to out rebound St. John's 37-32 on the afternoon.
St. John's Keys to the Game
What will the Johnnies have to do in order to exact some revenge on their tri-state rivals?
Pull away early. Seton Hall is the definition of a team in turmoil at the moment. They've dropped five straight and clearly appear like they have started to lose hope for the rest of the season. On top of that, they will be without their leading scorer in Sterling Gibbs and one of their top 3-point shooters in Jaren Sina in this one.
With St. John's as a team on the bubble that is essentially playing in a must-win game tomorrow, there is no reason as to why they should not jump all over the Pirates early and give them no hope for a victory.
Allowing Seton Hall to stick around will not only give the Pirates some hope that they can hang around and pull off the upset, but it will also keep the Red Storm from resting some of their hobbled starters.
Keep Delgado and Mobley in check. Angel Delgado and Brandon Mobley combined for 26 points and 22 rebounds the first time that these two teams met, dominating Chris Obekpa and Sir`Dominic Pointer, who combined for just 11 points and 12 rebounds on the afternoon.
With Obekpa a game-time decision tomorrow, most of the burden will fall on Pointer to limit Delgado and Mobley from dominating the Red Storm on the glass. With Gibbs out, The Hall's offense will likely run through both those two and Whitehead, and it will be imperative that the Johnnies keep them in check.
Maybe with Obekpa limited we will see more of Amar Alibegovic, who has been getting good minutes recently, or Joey De La Rosa, who started last game.
Get usual production from Greene, Pointer. We'll see how he looks in warmups and at tip-off, but right now it appears that D`Angelo Harrison will be limited in some way tomorrow. The Red Storm should not be relying on Harrison to score his usual 20-25 points tomorrow afternoon, so they'll have to look towards other guys, namely seniors like Greene and Sir`Dom, for production.
Pointer and Greene have each been somewhat quietly carrying the Red Storm through conference play, and they'll have to hope that can continue tomorrow.
The Bottom Line
With two straight games against tough opponents, albeit at home, still coming up in the next week, it's imperative to the St. John's tournament hopes that they start this three-game home stand off right with a victory tomorrow.
Seton Hall is a team that is absolutely coming apart at this point, and if it hasn't been done already, the Red Storm have a chance to put the final nail in their coffin tomorrow. If St. John's is truly an NCAA Tournament team, they will easily handle their business tomorrow afternoon.
St. John's makes quick work of a struggling Seton Hall team and rolls to a 76-60 victory.
What's your score prediction?