St. John's would have loved to forget its last two meetings with the Seton Hall Pirates.
The 15th-ranked Red Storm walked out of the Prudential Center 14-point losers two seasons ago. Last February, in what has since been referred to as the "Valentine's Day Massacre," Seton Hall blew the Johnnies out of their building again, winning by 30.
But this time around, St. John's (12-7, 4-3 Big East) gets the Pirates on their side of the river - a Sunday matinee at Madison Square Garden. The Johnnies are riding a three-game winning streak into the match-up, and may not be able to afford a fourth consecutive loss to Seton Hall if they want to keep NCAA Tournament dreams alive.
Seton Hall (13-6, 2-4 Big East), who enters the game coming off a win over South Florida, isn't the formidable name (or standings presence) like a Syracuse, Louisville, or Cincinnati. But they're well-coached, shoot from the field with high efficiency (45.7%), and have recently been able to figure out the St. John's attack.
"Seton Hall has had our number for the last couple years," Sir`Dominic Pointer mentioned on Saturday afternoon. "Last year, they made 15 threes against us. This is a trap game. If we come out too lackadaisical by just looking at their record, then we're not going to win."
Pointer dazzled in the Red Storm's 72-60 win over Rutgers on Wednesday, filling up the stat sheet with 13 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, and six steals.
Asked if Sunday's game against the Hall could be a trap game, guard Jamal Branch responded simply: "Definitely."
Coming off a big road win and with a heavy slate of Georgetown, UConn, Syracuse, and Louisville looming, the Johnnies are in a sneakily-tough position this week with Seton Hall on Sunday and a second face-off with DePaul on Wednesday.
"This team hasn't overlooked an opponent this year," Steve Lavin said. "If you've had the number of smack-downs or beat-downs as we had last season, I don't think you ever overlook an opponent. We should never be complacent because we haven't even arrived yet to be fat cats."
Pirates forwards Brandon Mobley and Brian Oliver both missed time with injuries, but both returned in the Hall's victory over USF on Wednesday. The two combine for 18.3 points and 10.3 rebounds for Kevin Willard's team - production that was dearly missed as the Pirates lost four straight in early January.
"We've got our hands full tomorrow. They've waxed us two years in a row," Lavin continued. "They're healthier now with a full complement of players and they're shooting the heck out of the rock."
Seton Hall did torch the inexperienced, freshmen-laden Red Storm for 15 three-pointers a season ago, but their prowess from behind the arc wasn't much of a fluke. Willard, being a direct coaching disciple of Rick Pitino, schemes his team's offense to create looks for its perimeter scorers. The Pirates are first in the league in threes made (155) and second in three-point percentage (37.3%).
"It will be very important [to guard the perimeter tomorrow]," Pointer said. "They remind us of Notre Dame, but probably more athletic. We have to keep them off the line."
In the Big East, games are rarely easy and stress-free. Though St. John's has gotten off to a better start than Seton Hall early in conference play, there's no reason to believe that this game won't be hard-fought throughout.
As of Saturday evening, St. John's is in a seven-way tie for third place in the conference at 4-3. A win on Sunday would give the Johnnies sole possession of third place behind Syracuse and Marquette.
But Lavin insists that they haven't earned a right to be "fat cats." What does the coach think they're better off being?