Just two short weeks ago, the 15th-ranked St. John's Red Storm (11-4, 0-3 Big East) were riding a seven-game winning streak as they prepared for their Big East opener against Seton Hall. Today, the unranked St. John's Red Storm are stumbling on a three-game losing streak as they prepare for a trip to Providence (13-4, 3-1 Big East), still in search of their first Big East win.
With memories of a disastrous 0-5 start to conference play that likely costed them an NCAA Tournament berth last season, the Red Storm and their head coach understand the importance that this game holds for them going forward in conference play.
"There is a lot of basketball ahead of us," said Steve Lavin, "we would like to be 15-0, 14-1, 13-2, or 12-3, but instead we are 11-4. We have to move forward and try to accumulate enough wins to do something special come March."
A win on the road over the 13-4 Friars would be a good start to that process for the Red Storm.
How to Watch/Listen
The game will tip off from the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island at 7:00 P.M. It will be broadcasted nationally by Fox Sports 1 with announcers Dick Stockton and Vin Parise calling the action. For those who cannot make it to a television, a radio broadcast can be heard on 970 AM (WNYM).
St. John's is currently a 2.5 point underdog according to Vegas.
Scouting St. John's
The Red Storm have dropped three straight games after an 11-1 start to non-conference play as they now sit at 11-4 overall and 0-3 in the Big East. They were dropped from the top 25 rankings yesterday after being ranked 24th overall last week, but losing their only game of the week at home against the Villanova Wildcats.
The Johnnies are led by senior guard D`Angelo Harrison, whose 20.6 points per game are the most on the team. Harrison has been the Johnnies leading scorer in each of their three Big East games so far this season, scoring 25, 31, and 25 points in the three contests.
He has been suffering from some ailments in his knee over the past few weeks, but with a full week of rest there is no reason to believe that he will not be on the floor for tipoff against the Friars.
If the Red Storm are going to pull out a win on Wednesday and make any noise in the improved Big East this season, they'll need someone besides Harrison to shoulder some of the scoring load going forward. With Rysheed Jordan absent against Butler and struggling against Villanova, St. John's got just seven points total from their bench in their last two games, with five of them coming from Myles Stewart mostly in garbage time last Tuesday night.
Using the six-man rotation that they have employed so far this season, it has been notably tougher for the Red Storm to matchup with Big East teams that can go seven or eight deep.
The 13-4 Friars come into this one winners of their last two games as they sport a 3-1 conference record so far. They capped off an impressive week on Saturday with a 60-57 overtime win against Georgetown four days after they defeated Butler in Hinkle Fieldhouse 66-62 last Tuesday.
Leading Providence in scoring is potential Big East Player of the Year candidate LaDontae Henton, whose 21.2 points per game barely edge out D`Angelo Harrison for the conference lead in scoring.
On top of his scoring, the senior forward also leads the team with 5.6 rebounds per game, and his 35% shooting from 3-point range gives him the ability to score from almost anywhere on the floor.
"Toward the end of last season it became evident that his game was developing in a dramatic fashion," said Lavin, "so it's not surprising that he's having this type of season as a senior."
Aside from Henton, St. John's will also have to watch out for guard Kris Dunn and forward Tyler Harris on Wednesday night. Dunn has really been the Providence version of Sir`Dominic Pointer so far this season, giving the Friars a little bit of everything. His 13.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game are each second-best on the team behind Henton, while his 7.4 assists and 2.6 steals per game each easily lead the team.
Harris is the third and final Providence player to average double-digits in scoring with 10.6 points per game, and he ranks fourth on the team in rebounding with just under five boards per game.
And, as something which we are going to have to note for almost every game remaining on the season for St. John's, the Friars depth should be an issue in this one for the Red Storm. While not as deep as Villanova, Providence can still go seven to eight deep, with only four players playing more than 25 minutes per game. The Friars are also very tall - the fourth-largest rotation in the country by player-minutes, as according to kenpom.com.
St. John's Keys to the Game
The Red Storm were able to go into Providence and take down the Friars last season, so what will need to happen for them to repeat that performance on Wednesday night?
Contain LaDontae Henton. While a bit of an obvious statement, containing LaDontae Henton should be the number one thing on the St. John's game plan going into Wednesday night. If the Red Storm allow Henton to get going early in this one, it could be a long night and a long trip home after another Big East loss.
In three of Providence's four losses this season, the conference's leading scorer has scored under his season average, including just three points against Kentucky and nine against Boston College. If St. John's can hold Henton to under his scoring average, it forces someone like Kris Dunn or Tyler Harris to step up and shoulder some of the scoring load.
Keep Obekpa, Pointer out of foul trouble. Again, while Providence does not sport the frontcourt presence that Villanova did last week, if Chris Obekpa and Sir`Dominic Pointer get into foul trouble early, it forces St. John's to give big minutes to Christian Jones and Joey De La Rosa, who have not looked stellar in Big East play so far.
Pointer fouled out after just 23 minutes last Tuesday against the Wildcats, while Obekpa has been in foul trouble in each of the three conference games this season. The physical way that Obekpa and Pointer like to contest shots under the basket may not be totally conducive to the roster that Steve Lavin is working with this year, as when the two get into foul trouble it forces Lavin to decide whether to sit them for lesser talent, or to keep them in at the risk of them picking up another foul, as we saw with Pointer Tuesday night.
Give the bench more minutes, please. As we've seen in the first few games of conference play, the St. John's bench is nearly nonexistent at this point in the season. And while no bench players, including Rysheed Jordan, have been extremely impressive over the past few weeks, it's not like they've been given much of a chance to show that they can produce for this team.
Aside from Jordan, there hasn't been one player on the St. John's bench who has played more than nine minutes in a game so far in Big East play. While this bench isn't extremely talented, it's just too much to ask six guys to play almost 30 minutes per game in this conference, and it hasn't been working for them so far. Why not try to shake things up?
If there was ever a chance for the Red Storm to turn things around from the way they have been going over the past two weeks, this is it. With a win at Providence and games coming up against unimposing opponents like DePaul and Marquette, St. John's could be back at .500 in the conference in the blink of an eye. But that all must start with a tough road victory Wednesday night.
Desperately needing a conference victory, I think that the Red Storm play a strong game on the road on their way to a hotly contested 68-65 win.
What's your score prediction?