St. John's (11-1), ranked #15 by the AP and #17 by the Coaches' poll this week, take on the Seton Hall Pirates (9-2) tomorrow at noon in Newark's Prudential Center as the beginning of Fox Sports 1 Big East's New Year's Eve marathon.
The Johnnies want to start off conference play better than they did last New Year's Eve, when they fell to Xavier in Cincinnati.
About the matchup, Steve Lavin said:
"Seton Hall has blown us out a number of times, which makes the game more meaningful to this particular group of upperclassmen. Seton Hall has been a real nemesis, so naturally our team comes into this game with the appropriate mindset. If we don’t execute at a high level we will be shellacked again, but if we play like we have in recent games, it will be a competitive contest."
The Hall is without Isaiah Whitehead, and has lost only to a solid Georgia team and Wichita State. The Hall have a number of young newcomers that change the look of their team, and those players - and that depth - will challenge a Red Storm side that depends heavily on its top six players, on the quickness of Chris Obekpa (8.8 rebounds/ game, 3.8 blocks/ game) and Sir`Dominic Pointer on defense (7.6 rebounds/ game, 2.6 steals/ game, 1.8 blocks/ game), and on the scoring of Phil Greene IV (11 points/ game) and D'Angelo Harrison (19 points/ game) on offense.
St. John's is coming off of their seventh-straight win, a dominant 82-57 victory over Tulane in the Barclays Center. St. John's wants to use the momentum from a hot non-conference start to propel the team to a top finish in the Big East - and more, to the NCAA Tournament for the senior core of the team.
How to watch online + radio
Fox Sports 1 has the broadcast. The game can be seen live-only on Fox Sports 1's app/ online and on Fox Sports 1. Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery return for what could be a big-time game.
For those listening on the radio, 570 AM WMCA will have the call with John Minko and Brandon Tierney.
St. John's are even odds against Seton Hall in Newark.
Figuring out Seton Hall's defense. If the Red Storm don't get out in transition, they will likel face a packed-in Seton Hall defense that will aim to restrict transition opportunities and force the Johnnies to shoot long jump shots.
Yes, St. John's can make those shots.
No, St. John's doesn't want to depend on those shots.
Opponent Q & A
Chris of South Orange Juice drops some knowledge on the Hall's new personnel.
Rumble How has integrating Isaiah Whitehead into the Seton Hall roster work with respect to scoring and chemistry? And what's the effect of having him out for Wednesday's game?
Chris Inserting freshman Angel Delgado in place of a senior like Gene Teague has shifted scoring away from the forwards and onto the shoulders of the guards. For the most part, there hasn't been too many selfish moments, and a lot less than last season, which was a chemistry nightmare. It was the Whitehead show at Wichita State and the Sterling Gibbs show against Illinois State (40 points), but for the most part it's been a very balanced attack. Even Khadeen Carrington (9.2 ppg over last 4 games) has produced in spurts as the fourth guard in the rotation.
As a result of the recruiting class and his personnel, Willard has rolled with the much talked about three-guard look until the last game against Maine. They were able to score at will against a weak Black Bear team, so it's a little bit hard to tell how Seton Hall will respond against St. John's active defense, whether it be a zone or man look. Small forward Desi Rodriguez and wing Stephane Manga started in place of Whitehead and Brandon Mobley (flu), so expect a slightly bigger lineup on Wednesday. The absence of Whitehead's vision, outside shooting, and defense (something Willard thinks is one of the biggest losses) will be felt.
Rumble What about the other newcomers? How are they fitting in? Which players have made the most impact? Obviously, a lot is different about this Seton Hall squad.
Chris As I've mentioned briefly, Angel Delgado has exceeded expectations at the five. He is a very energetic player, which helps and hurts, but isn't near the level of offensive capability that Gene Teague showed a year ago -- his strength is rebounding.
New York natives Desi Rodriguez and Khadeen Carrington have also made significant impacts. At 6-foot-6, Rodriguez plays a role similar to Sir'Dominic Pointer in that he's undersized at the four. Willard uses the super athletic forward off the bench in place of Brandon Mobley. He can defend bigger forwards, hits the glass well for a 6-foot-6 kid, and loves to play above the rim.
Carrington is quietly threatening Jaren Sina's guard spot. His 30-point efforts at Bishop Loughlin were a precursor of his sixth-man scoring this season. He'll fill in for Sterling Gibbs at point guard in Whitehead's absence and boasts an all-around game that suits both guard positions.
- In the first meeting last season, Seton Hall gave up 10 fast break points to Seton Hall's 14 - and allowed 17 points off of turnovers, while Seton Hall had 18. That was good - and St. John's still had to sweat out a late run by the Pirates to bring the game within one point (Dom Pointer's last-second steal sealed the victory). Both games were one-point wins by St. John's.
- St. John's is off to the program's best start in 30 years since starting the 1985-86 season 11-1.
Keys to the Game
Fast-break points. In the second meeting between St. John's and Seton Hall last year, in an empty Prudential Center after a winter storm, St. John's was held to eight points off of turnovers and only two fast-break points. That's probably not going to cut it, even if the defense is good. And when the St. John's defense is spectacular, it forces turnovers and generates easy buckets. So watch for the fast-break points.
Defend the three-pointer. Seton Hall is an excellent 38.5% from beyond the arc. With Whitehead gone, expect the Pirates to generate more deep shots for Sterling Gibbs - who takes 43% of his shots from beyond the arc - and for Jaren Sina, who takes 79% of his shots from beyond the arc.
Corral Pirates' big men. Angel Delgado is an active rebounder on both ends, filled with energy; Desi Rodriguez is a wing with rebounding ability. If St. John's defense is forcing misses, those two will be looking for offensive rebounds. St. John's has to locate them and keep them from putting points on the board.
St. John's takes care of business. Win, 65-56.
What's your score prediction?