One of the best St. John’s wins this season was that competitive road contest against the Providence Friars, the game where the Johnnies burst out to a lead, gave up the lead as victims of a 14-2 run on the road, but came back for the win.
Thinking that the Red Storm have a really good chance to sweep Providence - a team with realistic NCAA aspirations - would be too simple. Ed Cooley’s team has turned a corner and found ways to win games coming from behind, and have ripped off a nice string of victories.
For the team’s final regular season game before next week’s Big East Tournament, there might just be a big-game atmosphere, despite the Johnnies being locked into their Tourney seeding. A lot depends on whether 6’11” center Tariq Owens can play and disrupt on defense.
But will Providence secure their NCAA Tournament bonfides with a win tomorrow?
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (13-17, 7-10 Big East) vs Providence Friars (19-11, 9-9 Big East)
What: Big East Conference game
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
When: Saturday, March 4th, 12:00 PM ET
TV: Fox Sports 2 | Fox Sports Go
Audio: St. John’s TV All-Access will provide free audio for the contest. You can also use Tune In radio, reachable here. Also live game audio can be found on 970 WMCA.
Tickets: Secure your seat for St. John’s latest contest at Madison Square Garden. Those tickets could be found here.
The Providence Friars team seems to be getting better down the stretch, winning five straight games for coach Ed Cooley behind better defense and some steady contributions.
Winning five straight - against Butler, Xavier, DePaul and Marquette at home, plus against Creighton on the road in the five game stretch - has elevated a team that was 3-6 after the loss at home to St. John’s into an NCAA Tournament team - if they can handle business down the stretch.
The Friars will be much more uncomfortable if they do not defeat St. John’s and/ or win a game in the Big East Tournament next week.
The improved stretch has coincided both with better defense overall (though each game, what the Friars do effectively changes) and with steady contributions from 6’6” sophomore wing Isaiah Jackson, often for a half. But what has defined the Friars is a get-it-done toughness, an ability to persevere and pull out late wins against each of the teams it has defeated.
Kyron Cartwright continues to be the league’s best assist man; Rodney Bullock and Emmitt Holt continue to provide inside punch; freshman Alpha Diallo continues to be a solid slasher; Jalen Lindsey continues to be a strong outside shooter who picks his spots. And the team as a whole plays very good positional defense, fouling rarely while going to the line often on the other end.
Keys to contest
St. John’s needs to match toughness - not just in physicality, but in being confident and patient enough to trust each other, to find the balance between quick, aggressive offensive action and good shots.
Disruption: The Johnnies need to make passing hard for Kyron Cartwright. Marcus LoVett can hang with him on defense, and Shamorie Ponds and Kassoum Yakwe - who only played eight minutes in the first matchup - can be disruptive in passing lanes as well.
Shooting in traffic: There will be tough shots taken. Ponds, in particular, needs to have a high-impact afternoon shooting through traffic and taking those difficult shots he has been so good at. But if the Red Storm can get some punch from Malik Ellison, Federico Mussini and Kassoum Yakwe in making tough shots, the offense will be far more effective.
Play to the final whistle: The Friars have risen from plodding first halves to make noise late in games against some of the best in the league. Can St. John’s weather that, uh, storm? (“Hold off their prayers”? We need a new metaphor here.)
Providence is rolling. Ed Cooley likely remembers the reported shouting match between him and Chris Mullin. Tariq Owens may or may not be available. It will be close, but I expect the Friars to come ready to start making their stamp on Madison Square Garden.
KenPom Prediction: 74-73 St. John’s (51% chance of St. John’s victory)
Rumble Prediction: 76-72 Providence