St. John's faces the Fordham Rams as the second game of the Holiday Classic doubleheader in Madison Square Garden. Last season, the Red Storm found an uncharacteristic offensive stroke and demolished Fordham, 104-58, in the Holiday Festival. This season, St. John's looks even better than last year, and Fordham, possibly a little worse.
The game tips around 2:00 PM - depending on the finish of Manhattan vs Rutgers - and will be announced by Chris Carino and Ron Thompson are on the call. John Minko and Brandon Tierney will cover the game on radio, 570-AM (WNYM).
St. John's is 7-1 and meets Fordham for the 86th time; Tom Pecora's squad did knock off the Johnnies back in 2010, the season Steve Lavin's first team went to the NCAA Tournament. But the Rams have lost the last three meetings, including a game where Chris Obekpa set the single-game St. John's blocks record and his career high (11 blocks).
Ranked at #24 in the AP and on the verge of being ranked by the Coaches' poll, the Red Storm come into the Holiday Festival doubleheader looking like the strongest team in the New York metropolitan area.
- The Red Storm are on a three-game winning streak, following up a win over Syracuse in the Carrier Dome with a convincing win over the FDU Knights.
- Only one opponent (Franklin Pierce) has scored more than 73 points on St. John's in the regular season. Only two (Franklin Pierce and Gonzaga) have scored more than 1.00 point per possession over the course of a game against St. John's.
- St. John's has the ninth-best effective field goal defense (which adds a boost to adjust for the extra value of three-point shots) in the country.
- The opponent is Fordham.
Let's expand on the last point.
As discussed in the pregame Q & A, Fordham is struggling, led by a pair of freshmen point guards in Nemanja Zarkovic and redshirt freshman Antwoine Anderson, who have struggled with turnovers. The veteran at guard is Mandell Thomas, whose struggles shooting from distance come from a propensity to jack threes in transition; in the halfcourt, he struggles at the rim.
The team's biggest scoring threat with Jon Severe taking a leave of absence is freshman Eric Paschall, who has gotten buckets at the rim and hits 37.5% from beyond the arc. He has the green light Severe used to have.
The post play is manned by the capable Ryan Rhoomes... who has no help inside rebounding. Freshman Christian Sengfelder is a big body, but has had small rebounding results, taking into account his 32 minutes on the floor per game.
All of which is to say that the Rams' 3-4 record is less impressive than it looks. A win over a non-Division I opponent (NYIT is Division II. I honestly grew up thinking it was a community college. Sorry, NYIT.) and two squeakers over a decent Siena team and a passable Monmouth team are undercut by losses to UMass Lowell and Maryland Eastern Shore.
The Rams sport one of the worst offenses in Division I, helped by an ability to get to the free throw line and get second chances on the offensive glass.
But Tom Pecora is always eager to knock off St. John's and build his name up in New York circles. Expect him to pull out all the stops.
Keys to the Game
Play like the game means something. St. John's took care of business against Fairleigh Dickinson like a veteran team that deserved to be ranked. That attention to detail needs to continue - any team can get hot from outside given time and early confidence. Defensive rotations need to be solid, and players like Jamal Branch and Rysheed Jordan must look to pass, not attack as individuals on the playground.
Battle on the boards. Fordham, though, would love for the game to mean something, to be a turning point. Chris Obekpa and the emergent Sir`Dominic Pointer - along with D`Angelo Harrison - must attack loose balls.
Keep the energy up. The game will hopefully be a chance to give the bench more time to work out its kinks. But the energy level must remain high - last year's 104-58 thrashing of the Fordham Rams was a team taking care of business, and this year's squad should do just as well. Perhaps it's a day for Phil Greene IV to show his shooting touch once more.
This year's team finds a shooting stroke, but Fordham plays with pride. 78-62 in the final score.
What's your score prediction?