Time is ticking on St. John's and any chance that they may have at an NCAA Tournament berth in what has been an incredibly disappointing season to date for the Johnnies.
They had an outstanding chance to pick up a road win against Butler earlier this week that would have not only bolstered their tournament hopes, but given them a bit of momentum going forward as well. But as we all know, the Red Storm were embarrassed, both by their play and by their actions on the court Tuesday night.
Now with nine games to go in the season, it would be a stretch to think that the Red Storm have any shot at the tournament without at least six to seven more Big East wins. With that being said, the importance of winning games like tomorrow's against the 11-13 Creighton Blue Jays, who have already beaten St. John's once this season, cannot be understated.
Tomorrow in Madison Square Garden could be the start of an improbable St. John's run through the rest of Big East play, for all we know. But it could also be the nail in the coffin for the tournament hopes of guys like D`Angelo Harrison, Phil Greene IV, and Sir`Dominic Pointer.
How to Watch/Listen
For the second straight week the Red Storm will tip-off at 12:00 P.M. at the Garden. The game will be broadcasted by Fox Sports Networks and will air locally on MSG Network, with Justin Kutcher and Tarik Turner on the call. For those unable to make it to a television the game can also be heard on 570 AM (WMCA).
There are currently no betting odds on this game.
Scouting St. John's
The Red Storm are right now at 14-8 overall and 3-6 in the Big East. After an impressive 11-1 start to the season they have dropped seven of their last 10 games to fall from 15th-ranked in the nation to not even scratching the surface of the top 25.
As referenced earlier, the last time out for St. John's was a struggle, as they came flat out of the gate and could not get consistent defensive stops during their comeback attempt in the second half with Chris Obekpa out of the game, and eventually lost 85-62.
This game is the first of a two-game home stand for the Johnnies, who will face DePaul at Carnesecca Arena on Wednesday.
The Red Storm's leader over the past few weeks has undeniably been one of their senior leaders, Sir`Dominic Pointer. Sir`Dom has led the Red Storm in scoring in five of their last six games with D`Angelo Harrison struggling, and that continued his last time out against Butler where he had 19.
And Pointer is really doing it all for St. John's in that time as well, he's had a double-double in three of their last four games and has led the team in rebounding in four of their last five.
D`Angelo Harrison is still the team's leading scorer, and he became the third member of the St. John's 2,000-point club on Tuesday, but right now it's hard to get a read on just exactly where his shot is. Last week against Providence he was second on the team with 15 points and shot 5-12 from the field, but against the Bulldogs he took only six shots, made just two of them, and scored only 10 points in 28 minutes before fouling out.
While he was in foul trouble for almost the entire time that he was on the court on Tuesday, a volume shooter like Harrison should be taking much more than six shots in 28 minutes. We'll keep a close eye on how he looks tomorrow.
As far as anyone around the team has heard, Chris Obekpa will be allowed to play tomorrow after his ejection on Tuesday night for throwing an elbow to the head of Butler's Tyler Wideman. According to Zach Braziller of the NY Post, the Big East has the option to suspend him, but no one has heard any talk of any sort of a suspension at this point.
The Blue Jays enter Madison Square Garden with an 11-13 record and a 2-9 mark in the Big East that has them in last place in the conference, but still only two games behind St. John's. After opening up 0-8 to get things started in conference play, Creighton has partially found their footing and has now won two of their last three in the conference.
Their last time out was a shocking 79-72 overtime win against Xavier on Wednesday night, and as mentioned above, they have already taken down St. John's at home just nine days ago.
Creighton's leading scorer right now is Austin Chatman at 10.8 points per game, but they are really led by a variety of different players. In fact, they have had a different player lead them in scoring in each of their last four games, even if one of those was a blowout loss to Georgetown last week where their leading scorer was Avery Dingman with just eight points.
In the Blue Jays last time out against Xavier, it was Ricky Kreklow leading the way with 17. Kreklow is averaging just over seven points in just 21 minutes per game for Creighton this season.
One guy who St. John's and their fans will surely be looking out for tomorrow afternoon is freshman forward Toby Hegner, who torched the Red Storm for a career-high 21 points on 5-6 shooting from 3-point range in their last meeting. However, in Creighton's two games since playing St. John's Hegner has scored five against Georgetown and was shut out against Xavier after only nine minutes on the court.
Whether or not that game was an anomaly (he's only scored in double-figures two other times in Big East play) may remains to be seen, but if St. John's allows it to happen again they could be kissing their tournament hopes goodbye.
Among other things Creighton still doesn't have a dominant rebounder on their side. 6'3" Devin Brooks is currently their leading rebounder with 5.2 per game
St. John's Keys to the Game
Here's what the Red Storm will have to do in order to keep their fading tournament hopes alive and live to fight another day.
Learn how to defend the 3-point shot. The only reason that Creighton was even in the game the last time that these two teams met was because of their stellar 3-point shooting. The Blue Jays launched 30 shots from behind the arc in that one, including 16 of their first 25. They were able to hit 13 of them in that game, with most of them being wide open.
In fact, many of the 3's that Creighton took in that game happened to be wide open, even most of the 17 that they missed. This is obviously not the same Creighton team from a year ago that is going to kill you from downtown, but if you give them wide open shots, like any other team, they are going to hit them.
St. John's has been notoriously bad at defending 3's in Big East play, but there's no excuse for that to happen again tomorrow.
Come out of the gate strong. Against Butler on Tuesday night, the Red Storm didn't score a basket for more than five minutes to open up the game. In that period of time they dug themselves a hole that was just to big for them to dig out of. Against Creighton in their last meeting, they trailed by 10 at the half.
And while they were able to fight back into that one almost immediately as the second half began, that slow start gave a Creighton team, that at the time was winless in the conference, enough of confidence to think that they really could pull off the upset.
There was no excuse for the Johnnies to fall behind early in that game and there will be no excuse if the same happens tomorrow. A tournament team comes out strong from the start and rolls to an easy win at home against a team like Creighton, let's see what St. John's does tomorrow.
Get a bounce back game from Obekpa. Chris Obekpa owes himself, his teammates, and the St. John's fan base a game after the disappointment that was Tuesday night. That was the second time that the junior has been ejected from a game this season, and it was just an overall embarrassing moment for himself and the program.
Obekpa should want nothing more than to make it up to his teammates with a stellar performance tomorrow that leads to a win. There is no reason why he should have any trouble on either end of the floor tomorrow, and there is no reason why he should not bounce back from Tuesday night.
The Bottom Line
I typed this exact sentence just over one week ago, and I will do the same here today. A tournament team would have no trouble dismantling a subpar opponent like Creighton. Since then St. John's has done plenty to prove to the nation that they are not in fact a tournament team, but some around the program, including myself, still believe that there is some fight left in this veteran team.
The Red Storm really only have two or three more games that they can afford to lose in the regular season if they want to be considered come selection Sunday, and a loss to Creighton should not be one of them.
St. John's plays a stellar game on both ends of the floor, but is unable to pull away from Creighton. The Red Storm hang on for a 73-63 victory.