Starting tonight, St. John's has a chance to build momentum to a hot start with the first of five games in the city of New York. The Red Storm are ranked #24 in the country, and are enjoying the high that comes with being on the edge of being a national story in New York City.
St. John's has not faced the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights (from Teaneck, NJ) since 2007, when they won 92-67 behind Eugene Lawrence, Larry Wright, D.J. Kennedy and Justin Burrell. St. John's has also never lost to FDU, sporting an 11-0 record.
Tonight's announcers will be Tom McCarthy and Alaa Abdelnaby. The start time is 8:00 PM (a little later than usual) and the game will be on the CBS Sports Network.
The Red Storm are 17-point favorites tonight.
The current coach of the Northeast Conference's Knights is Greg Herenda in his second year after moving over from UMass-Lowell.
The way a team gets ranked
This year, the Red Storm have a minuscule turnover rate - giving the ball up on 17% of possessions, 62nd in the country - and draw fouls, while playing incredibly strong defense.
According to KenPom's statistics (which exclude the Franklin Pierce game - a non-Division I opponent), St. John's has the ninth-best defense in the country, holding opponents to 27% shooting outside the arc and 39% shooting inside the arc.
On the season, St. John's is shooting 47% inside the arc an 33% outside the arc, led by D`Angelo Harrison's 18.4 points per game on 39% shooting (40% inside the arc, 37% outside). Rysheed Jordan has chipped in 15.3 points on 43% shooting, and Sir`Dominic Pointer has been efficient, hitting 53% of his shots and dishing out 3.1 assists per game.
Chris Obekpa is averaging 6.7 points and 9.6 rebounds with 3.9 blocks per game, but is shooting 30% from the field. Jamal Branch has been very good in a mostly-bench role, shooting 58% (68% inside the arc) with 2.7 assists per game.
Still, St. John's has handled opponents, winning all but the Minnesota game by double digit margins and holding all but Gonzaga and Minnesota at under 50% shooting inside the arc.
Time to build
Facing off against the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights tonight, the Red Storm must avoid playing down to their opponent. Or, more accurately, must continue to explore ways to put opponents away.
That may seem a strange, after the 6-1 Red Storm knocked off Syracuse late by putting them away, but St. John's needed a late surge from Phil Greene IV to do the job. The defense was strong from outside the arc, but one hot shooting night/ day can negate some of the best perimeter defense.
As can a flurry of foul calls that go the wrong way, or opponents that can actually hit free throws; opponents are shooting 63% from the line against the Johnnies.
Who does Steve Lavin trust?
Amar Alibegovic, despite being a magnet for fouls, saw minutes at forward over Christian Jones and Felix Balamou against Syracuse. Myles Stewart got a start against Niagara and was talked up as a possible zone-buster against Syracuse.
Meanwhile, Jamal Branch has seen time starting over Rysheed Jordan, who still gets minutes. But Jordan has made some over-aggressive mistakes on the floor.