The time for petty jabs between Rick Pitino and Dan Hurley in the media is over. Tomorrow, the St. John’s Red Storm will face the first-ranked UConn Huskies in one of their most important regular season games in recent memory.
St. John’s are coming off an ugly, foul-ridden 88-77 loss to Xavier on Wednesday night, in which they finished the game on the wrong end of a 13-2 run. While they find themselves within the field in almost all NCAA tournament projections, they have lost four of their last five games and now is not the time to find comfort in prognostication.
As for UConn, they are as great as their number one ranking says they are. They are clear runaway favorites for the conference regular season title and have not lost since the calendar turned to 2024. There is even a worthy case that this year’s team is better than last year’s National Championship-winning squad. Like St. John’s, the Huskies played in a zebra show on Wednesday night, winning an unglamorously officiated 74-65 slugfest with Providence.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (13-8) vs. No. 1 UConn Huskies (19-2)
When: Saturday, February 3rd, 2024, 12:00 p.m.
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Radio: Learfield Red Storm Sports Network, Sirius XM Channel 389
Opening Odds: St. John’s (+4.5), O/U at 146.5
Series History: St. John’s leads, 37-32
St. John’s is 13-8 overall, and they are tied for fifth in the Big East standings with a conference record of 5-5. St. John’s is currently ranked 36th in KenPom and 38th in NET while holding the 10th-best strength of schedule rating in KenPom. Their records by NET quadrants are as follows, with opponents defeated in bold:
- 2-6 in Quad 1 games (Utah, Dayton, @ UConn, @ Villanova, @ Creighton, @ Seton Hall, Marquette, @ Xavier)
- 5-1 in Quad 2 games (North Texas, Boston College, Xavier, Butler, Providence, Villanova)
- 2-1 in Quad 3 games (Michigan, @ West Virginia, Hofstra)
- 4-0 in Quad 4 games (Stony Brook, Holy Cross, Sacred Heart, Fordham)
Note that Dayton, Utah, North Texas, and Boston College are designated as neutral site games
Facing UConn (NET #4) at home gives St. John’s a chance to claim a Quad 1 win. The Red Storm hope to break a four-game losing streak in Quad 1 games.
According to Bracket Matrix, St. John’s is seeded in 84 different bracketology selections with an average seed of 8.39. In his latest update, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has dropped St. John’s to a 9-seed after their loss to Xavier.
With the exceptions of Sadiku Ibine Ayo and Cruz Davis, who suffered season-ending injuries, every other St. John’s player will be active for tomorrow’s game against UConn, according to Rick Pitino.
Thirty minutes before tip-off, UConn forward Alex Karaban has been ruled out for Saturday’s game, according to Jon Rothstein. He suffered a sprained ankle in Wednesday night’s game against Providence, but he was able to play 34 minutes against the Friars. He did travel with the team and was photographed warming up in Friday’s shoot-around. Karaban is the Huskies’ third-leading scorer, averaging 14.5 points per game while shooting 52.3% from the field and 39.3% from three.
Storylines to follow
A Garden Divided: A hot topic of Saturday’s game will not be the battle on the court, but the battle for numbers in the stands. Rick Pitino said in Friday’s media availability that he expects an atmosphere of a neutral-site game when UConn — and thousands of their fans — comes to town.
Last year’s meeting with UConn became a glorified Husky home game, as St. John’s fans were too disgusted to show up as the team limped through the final season of Mike Anderson’s underwhelming tenure. Pitino’s arrival resuscitated a then-despondent fanbase and there should be plenty of energy in the building on Saturday — especially from fans donning red.
Go DJ: Daniss Jenkins has played like a guard worthy of All-Big East recognition since the start of the new year. In the month of January, Jenkins is averaging 16.1 points per game and 5.0 assists while shooting 45.0% from the field and 38.1% from three. He will have the arduous task of facing triple-double threat Tristen Newton, who could arguably be the Big East’s best guard.
Jordan Moment: It’s been an up-and-down two games for Jordan Dingle since he returned from illness. Dingle scored 12 points in each of his last two games and shot 72.7% from the field, but he is 0-of-8 from three in that span. Dingle has yet to reach the 20-point benchmark in a St. John’s uniform; could Saturday be the day?
Soriano soars back: It’s safe to say Joel Soriano’s demise was greatly exaggerated. The captain averages 21.0 points per game, 12.0 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks on 69.6% shooting in his last two games.
Keys to the game
Jenkins and Soriano need to take control (again) - Daniss Jenkins and Joel Soriano combined to score 46 of the Red Storm’s 77 points on Wednesday night, with each shooting very efficiently. The duo will be tasked with handling the scoring burden again on Saturday.
Please make some threes - Last year’s St. John’s squad, which featured slashers like Posh Alexander and Andre Curbelo, shot 34.3 percent from three in conference play. This year’s team is shooting a skin-crawling 29.1 percent from deep, dead last in the Big East. Stare at that number.
St. John’s has not been a conventionally bad three-point shooting team; their deep-range shooting has been downright unwatchable at points, which is shocking for the amount of natural scoring talent on the Red Storm. They simply need to make their threes.
Don’t get overmatched on the glass - The Red Storm were out-rebounded by ten in their loss to Xavier and conceded 16 offensive rebounds; the latter was the second-most they have allowed in a game all season. UConn ranks in the top 15 nationally in offensive rebound percentage, so St. John’s can’t get run over on the glass.