Prior to tip-off at Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon against the then-conference-leading Providence Friars, things could not have been headed any more south for St. John's this season. At 13-7 they were reeling, and had lost three of their last four games, including a loss to last-place Creighton on Wednesday.
So it was only fitting that the Red Storm played one of their best games of the season on Saturday and held a lead for the entire second half in an impressive win over the Friars.
Now with just a touch of momentum on their side, they'll take on the 22nd-ranked Butler Bulldogs tonight in search of their second straight resume-building win.
How to Watch/Listen
The 7 P.M. tip-off will be a part of a nationally televised Big East doubleheader on Fox Sports 1, with Eric Collins and Bob Wenzel on the call. John Minko and Vin Parise will have the radio broadcast, which can be heard on TuneIn Radio or through RedStormSports.com.
St. John's is currently a six-point underdog on the road against the 22nd-ranked Bulldogs.
Scouting St. John's
With a record of 14-7 overall and 3-5 in the conference, the Red Storm currently stand in 8th-place in the Big East. After losing six of their last eight games and stumbling to a 2-5 record to open Big East play, St. John's got a huge victory on Saturday afternoon against Providence, defeating the Friars 75-66.
In this one, they'll look to avenge their 73-69 loss on January 3rd to Butler in a game that Rysheed Jordan missed after his short-lived leave of absence from the team. This game presents a significant opportunity for the Johnnies to string a few wins together in the conference, as after this they'll take on Creighton and DePaul, each of whom are under .500 this season.
Although D`Angelo Harrison still stands as their leading scorer on the season, St. John's has been led primarily by Sir`Dominic Pointer over their past few games. Pointer, who was named to his second straight Big East Honor Roll yesterday, has led the Red Storm in scoring in three of their last four games, averaging 17.3 points per game in that span.
But Pointer does not only bring scoring to the table. He has averaged just under 10 rebounds and five assists per game over his past four as well. He has clearly elevated his game in the wake of D`Angelo Harrison's limited production, and without him the Johnnies likely wouldn't even be in the NCAA Tournament discussion right now.
Speaking of D`Angelo Harrison, the senior guard may finally be back to 100 percent this season, as he's scored 18 and 15 points over his last two games and shot 5-12 from the field on Saturday, including 2-6 from downtown.
With their leading scorer Harrison back on track and shooting his usual percentage, it makes the Red Storm offense much more potent and could give them the boost that they need to pick up a few wins heading into the stretch run of conference play.
Some news that St. John's fans will be happy to see and hear is the fact that Rysheed Jordan appears to be healthy after leaving Wednesday's game against Creighton with a knee injury. Despite coming off the bench on Saturday, Jordan scored 14 on 5-6 shooting while adding four rebounds and four assists as well.
This will be the first time that he will get to face Butler this season after he was away from the team in their January 3rd meeting.
The Butler Bulldogs made the top 25 for the second straight week on Monday, coming in as number 22 in the nation with a record of 16-6 overall and 6-3 in the Big East. Their 6-3 conference record has them tied for second place in the Big East at the moment, and they have won three straight and four of their last five.
Junior guard Kellen Dunham leads the Bulldogs with just over 16 points per game, while also shooting an impressive 43% percent from the field. Dunham also shoots 42% from 3-point range as his team's best shooter from behind the arc, and he torched St. John's in their first meeting this season for 28 points, including a 6-7 shooting performance from downtown.
Although he is shooting just 12-38 in his past three games from the field, he still is easily the Bulldogs most potent scorer from anywhere on the court.
But Butler is an extremely balanced team, with five other players besides Dunham who average between seven and 13 points per game on the season. Junior forward Roosevelt Jones is among those five players, and he essentially does it all for the Bulldogs, as he is not only their second leading scorer with just under 13 points per game, but he also comes in second on the team with just under six rebounds per game and leads the team with 3.8 assists per game.
Jones shot 7-12 from the field and scored 14 points in Butler's first meeting against St. John's, however he is coming off his worst game of the season, a two-point, 1-12 shooting performance against Marquette on Saturday.
Kameron Woods and Andrew Chrabascz man the paint for Butler down low, with 9.4 and 3.6 rebounds per game on the season, respectively. Woods has grabbed double-digit rebounds in 10 of Butler's 22 games this season, and in his last outing against Marquette he hauled down an impressive 18 rebounds in the overtime win.
On the other hand, Chrabascz is not an outstanding rebounder, in fact his high for rebounds in a game this season is just eight. But Chrabascz makes up for that with his scoring, including a 30-point outburst on Saturday.
St. John's Keys to the Game
What will the Red Storm have to do in order to pick up a huge victory and avoid being swept by Butler tomorrow night?
Contain Kellen Dunham. The Johnnies could do nothing to stop Kellen Dunham from dominating them in their first meeting back in January, and if that happens once again tonight, they should see the same result as that one.
St. John's has shown a clear weakness in conference play against defending the 3-point shot, and that spells trouble for them against a Butler team that has more than one capable shooter from downtown.
Senior guard Alex Barlow also shoots at 36% from 3-point range, and he tied a season-high with 15 points against the Red Storm in their last meeting, but for all intensive purposes St. John's should be focusing on containing Dunham.
Have the offense run through Rysheed Jordan early. As noted earlier, Jordan did not play in the first meeting between these two, and that made a noticeable difference in the game's result. Jordan's athleticism should play a huge role in this one, and for that reason the St. John's offensive game plan should feature him heavily, or at least more than it currently does.
Jordan has scored at least 14 points in three straight games if you disregard the Creighton game that he left at halftime, and he has been playing outstanding basketball over the past few weeks. Even with D`Angelo Harrison playing better of late, I would like to see Jordan take over tomorrow night.
Get out in transition. The Red Storm outscored Butler 12-4 in fast break points in their last meeting, but they'll need an even bigger advantage in that category if they want to leave Indiana with a victory tomorrow night.
St. John's is clearly the more athletic team, but as we saw in the first meeting between these two teams, athleticism alone is not enough to take down a fundamentally sound team like Butler.But that being said, it can be a big help for the Red Storm playing in a tough environment tomorrow to get a few easy baskets in transition to get themselves going.
After appearing dead in the water just a few days ago, there is certainly some new life in the St. John's tournament hopes going forward. They have been searching for that marquee victory to put on their resume all season long, and after coming up empty in almost all of their chances before tonight, this is probably their best chance for a resume-building win.
This team cannot afford any more excuses after a disappointing Big East start, and that mantra must continue tonight.
St. John's remains close with Butler for much of the night, but Dunham's sharp-shooting is enough to sink the Red Storm in a close game, 68-65.
What is your score prediction?