St. John's is coming off a thriller on Sunday afternoon at the Garden. Seton Hall entered Sunday's contest desperate for a win to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. When the Pirates lead jumped to 19, St. John's seemed dead in the water and fans were preparing for another blowout loss. Instead the Johnnies lead a furious comeback that erased the 19 point Seton Hall lead, and even gave St. John's a 3 point lead.
Coach Chris Mullin told the media after the game how pleased he was with his team: "the most impressive thing to me was [the way they] came back, played together and kept that enthusiasm. That's what a team is all about."
Sunday was an encouraging sign for the rebuilding Johnnies. The fight and determination displayed is tremendous to witness out of such a young team. Despite the lowly record, St. John's has done enough to excite supporters about the future in Queens. Traveling to Chicago will give St. John's another opportunity to gain experience and energize fans for the next season. The task at hand is fellow rebuilders, the DePaul Blue Demons.
Who: St. John's Red Storm (8-20) vs DePaul Blue Demons (8-18)
Where: Allstate Arena, Rosemont, IL
When: Thursday, February 25th, 9:00 PM ET
TV: Fox Sports 1 or Fox Sports Go
Audio: 570 AM WMCA
Twitter: As always, follow @rumbleSBN and @StJohnsBBall for updates.
Last Meeting: St. John's knocked off DePaul by a score of 80-65 last week.
Fun Fact: DePaul has been to the Final Four more times than Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Iowa State, Wake Forest, Oregon, and others.
DePaul enters Thursday's game sitting at the 9 spot in the Big East. St. John's enters the contest occupying the bottom spot in the Big East. Whichever team wins on Thursday will take 9th place in the Big East standings. St. John's will have a chance to get out of Big East's cellar for the first time all season long.
The Blue Demons are lead by Myke Henry. This 6-foot-6 forward has been terrorizing the Big East all season long. Henry is currently averaging 14 points per game along with 6 rebounds and a field goal percentage of 53%. Despite the gaudy season averages, Henry has struggled as of late.
Over the last three game stretch against Villanova, St. John's, and Marquette, Henry has only averaged 7 points per game. Henry also only has a combined 7 rebounds in DePaul's last two contests. If DePaul is going to win, they are going to need their star to step up. Against St. John's, Henry only finished with 5 points and 4 rebounds while shooting a disappointing 25% from the field.
Another key contributor is freshman Eli Cain. His current season totals are 10 points per game along with 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Cain has been the opposite of Henry as he is playing very well as of late. Over the same three game stretch as Henry, Cain has collected an average of 16 points per game, while shooting 42% from the field. These averages include a monster 25-point performance against the Johnnies last week. If DePaul can get Henry and Cain going at the same time, they will be difficult to overcome on Thursday.
One more player to keep an eye out for is Billy Garrett Jr. He is considered by many one of the promising NBA prospects in the Big East conference. Currently he is averaging 13 points and 4 assists per contest. He is a very mature and unselfish player, who would make for a good combo guard in the NBA. Garrett sat out the last game against DePaul after sustaining a leg injury versus St. John's last week. According to sources both Billy Garrett Jr. and big man Peter Ryckbosch are day-to-day with leg injuries. Both players missed their last contest against Marquette. It should be interesting to see if these players compete on Thursday.
DePaul just announced that Billy Garrett Jr. (lower leg) and Peter Ryckbosch (knee) both out against Marquette today. Both day-to-day.— Scott Phillips (@phillipshoops) February 20, 2016
Keys to Contest
Keep feeding the monster: Kassoum Yakwe is starting to show the country why he was highly regarded by many coming out of high school.
Programs like Villanova, Kansas, Syracuse, and Maryland all made a late run for Kassoum Yakwe. He landed at St. John's to play for coach Chris Mullin after graduating a year earlier than he had to. Ever since the road game against Xavier, Yakwe has elevated his game to another level. In his last six games Yakwe has averaged 12 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks per game. St. John's would benefit greatly if Yakwe consistently would produce statistics like he has recorded in his last six games.
Force Turnovers: For any team, forcing turnovers and getting transition points is crucial for securing victory. The difference in this contest is that St. John's can expose a weakness of DePaul and run with it. The Blue Demons average 15 turnovers per game and gave the ball away 17 times the last time they played St. John's. The Johnnies should look to exploit this weakness and turn their turnovers into easy transition points.
Balanced attack: This point has been stressed all season long. St. John's needs to have multiple scoring threats on offense if they are going to win in the Big East and across the nation. Last time the Johnnies played DePaul, the Red Storm had five scorers with 9 or more points. This type of offensive variation will keep St. John's in many games in the future. Once again they need to have a slew of scorers if they want to leave Rosemont victorious.
St. John's has been playing better basketball lately. Whether you look back at the DePaul torching or the furious comeback against Seton Hall, the Johnnies have shown passion. I expect St. John's to smell the chance to grab a victory against a lackluster opponent.
Final Prediction: 76-66 St. John's