As the clock struck zero inside of Allstate Arena on Sunday afternoon, completing the fourth loss in five conference games for St. John's, memories of last season's disastrous start to Big East play had to be running through the minds of Red Storm players, coaches, and fans.
Their 0-5 start to conference play last season essentially doomed the team's NCAA Tournament hopes, and it appears history may be primed to repeat itself this season. But if things are going to change for the Red Storm in 2015, that change must begin right now when they take on the Marquette Golden Eagles tonight.
How to Watch/Listen
The game will tip off at 7:00 P.M. and will be broadcasted nationally by Fox Sports 1, with Joe Davis and Tarik Turner calling the action. 970 AM (WNYM) will have the radio broadcast with John Minko and Brandon Tierney.
St. John's is currently a six point favorite over the Marquette Golden Eagles.
Scouting St. John's
The Red Storm have dropped three of their first four conference games and are currently in ninth place in the Big East. Although it is still early in conference play, they'll need to string some wins together soon if they plan on making some noise come March, as many predicted they would before the season started.
D`Angelo Harrison still leads the way for St. John's with an even 20 points per game, but he scored just 11 points in Sunday's loss to DePaul, the first time he's scored under 20 points in Big East play so far this season.
There has to be some concern with Harrison's health going forward, as he's suffered a litany of injuries in the past few weeks alone, and appeared to be somewhat hampered by a knee injury on Sunday. The Johnnies are already lacking depth as it is, and they clearly cannot afford to have even a limited Harrison going forward.
After struggling amid controversy weeks earlier, Rysheed Jordan has elevated his play in the past two games, scoring 17 in each of them. Despite the improved scoring effort, Jordan has still struggled with his decision-making recently, with seven turnovers and just six assists in his last two outings.
Jordan also made the controversial decision in the closing seconds of overtime on Sunday to pass the ball off to Chris Obekpa under the basket for a contested shot that missed. While not being a horrible decision, the pass (and overall play-call by Steve Lavin) were second-guessed by many after the loss, but hindsight is 20/20.
The Marquette Golden Eagles will enter the Garden tonight with a 10-7 overall record and 2-3 Big East record, good for just eight place in the conference. They have yet to win a Big East game on the road so far this season in three tries, but have stayed within single-digits in all three of their losses to DePaul, Georgetown, and Xavier. After tonight, they'll face a tough stretch of games against Georgetown, Seton Hall, Butler, at Villanova, and at Seton Hall.
BYU-transfer Matt Carlino leads the way for Marquette with an average of 13.5 points per game so far on the season. Carlino scored 27 in a losing effort against Xavier on Saturday, and scored 14 including the game-winning 3-pointer with 11 seconds left to give the Golden Eagles their last win against Creighton last Wednesday.
Carlino is most effective from beyond the arc, as he's hit a 3-pointer in all but two of Marquette's 17 games this season. That could spell danger for the Red Storm, who allowed 10 3-pointers against DePaul on Sunday.
Sensational freshman guard Duane Wilson also has stepped up and played a major role for the Golden Eagles so far this season, averaging just over 11 points, two assists, and one steal per game, all of which are among the top four on the team. The Milwaukee-native Wilson is playing as a redshirt freshman this season after missing all of last year due to injury.
The Golden Eagles move the ball around well, and they shoot an impressive 46% from the field, which is good for 69th overall in the nation. However, for the second straight game, St. John's will face a team that does not rank in the top 300 in the nation in rebounding.
Marquette is actually a worse rebounding team than DePaul, averaging one less rebound per game than the Blue Demons. Although the Red Storm were completely unable to take advantage of DePaul's weak rebounding on Sunday, being out-rebounded 43-30, we will see if they are able to do so tonight.
St. John's Keys to the Game
Here's what the Red Storm will have to do in order to rebound with a victory at The Garden tonight.
Don't let Carlino get going. St. John's downfall on Sunday afternoon was clearly their defense of the 3-point shot. While DePaul started to get hot from downtown in the second half, they really had open shots from 3 for most of the afternoon, they were just missing most of them in the first half.
For a team coming off a game in which they allowed double-digit 3-pointers on defense, Marquette will not be an easy matchup for the Red Storm to improve upon their struggles. Matt Carlino is shooting 42% from downtown this season and has hit nine of his last 14 from 3-point range in his last two games. And while the Golden Eagles do not have another dominant shooter on their roster, St. John's will likely have their hands full with Carlino alone.
Win the rebounding battle. Marquette has only one player on their roster who stands above 6'7", center Luke Fischer who has played in just nine games so far this season after transferring from Indiana. Fischer and forward Juan Anderson are the only Marquette players to average over five rebounds per game, and St. John's needs to take advantage of that.
The performance put in by the Red Storm on the boards against DePaul was disappointing to say the least, namely Chris Obekpa and Sir'Dominic Pointer, who combined for just four rebounds total. Those two will need to stay out of foul trouble (which is a lot to ask when you play 30-plus minutes per game) and lead the way on the boards if St. John's is going to pull out a win.
Get out to an early lead. If there's one thing that the Red Storm desperately need at this point in the season, it's some rest for their five starters. Although they've been getting some contributions from their bench, namely Amar Alibegovic (two points, five rebounds in 15 minutes on Sunday), St. John's starters are still being forced to play upwards of 30 minutes every game. In fact, D'Angelo Harrison played 44 minutes on a bad knee Sunday.
If they are able to get off to a fast start tonight and build a comfortable lead, that would afford them the rare opportunity to give their bench some minutes and allow their starters to rest. One the other hand, if this game comes down to the wire, Marquette has nine players that average over 12 minutes per game, and that gives them the clear advantage late.
There have been rumblings around the St. John's basketball community that every game since the Seton Hall loss has been a "must-win" for this team. In that stretch, the Johnnies have won just one of four games.
Whether or not those games were actually "must-wins," it's beyond clear that tonight's game is. This team simply cannot afford a 1-5 start to conference play, and with a game against Duke looming on Sunday, they cannot afford another three-game losing streak. If St. John's s going to make any noise in March, that process must begin tonight.
I think that St. John's gets a strong performance from Obekpa and Pointer on the boards and controls most of the game on their way to a 72-61 victory.
What's your score prediction?