With some big wins down the stretch, the St. John's Red Storm enter Big East Tournament play at 21-10, 10-8 in the Big East and fifth in the Big East standings - one spot behind tomorrow's opponent, the Providence Friars.
But St. John's swept Providence (21-10, 11-7 in Big East play) - winning by 13 points on the road and nine points in Madison Square garden. It is tough to beat an opponent three times in a row, but does St. John's have some kind of magic touch against the Friars?
Tomorrow afternoon in the second game of the league's tournament, we will all find out in Madison Square Garden, as the Big East Tournament tips off for both teams - who met in the quarterfinal round last year, as well.
How to Watch/Listen
Tomorrow's game is on Fox Sports 1, announced by Justin Kutcher, Donny Marshall and Molly McGrath (sideline). St. John’s radio broadcast with John Minko and Brandon Tierney can be heard on 970 AM-WNYM.
St. John's is currently a 1.5 point favorite on their home court (but it's not a home game).
Scouting St. John's
Despite the lack of depth - only six players averaged more than 12 minutes per game for the Johnnies in conference play - balance is the key for the Red Storm. St. John's sports four players who average between 14 points and 17 points per game.
The Red Storm have all Big East First-Teamer D`Angelo Harrison and second-team honoree Sir`Dominic Pointer anchoring the team. Harrison has been a known quantity, St. John's all-time third leading scorer who shot 39% from beyond the arc in conference play, averaged over 17 points per game, while adding five rebounds, two assists and a steal per contest.
But Sir`Dominic Pointer's emergence into one of the best players in the conference - even if the postseason awards may not have given him his full due - is the real power behind the St. John's rise late in the Big East season. Pointer averaged just under 15 points per game, three blocks, seven rebounds, three assists and one and a half steals per game.
Pointer, described by coach Steve Lavin as a magical creature (ok, he said "unicorn"), shot 53%, finding confidence in his shot and pushing the transition game for the Johnnies.
That transition game and ability to put pressure on defenses served the Red Storm well against Providence this season. The Johnnies generated transition opportunities and open shots on the perimeter. In the two games, both D`Angelo Harrison and Phil Greene IV shot 6/12 from beyond the arc, while Pointer went to the line 22 times - more than the 18 official field goals he attempted in the box scores of those games.
Rysheed Jordan's emergence as a shooter has been influential, as well; in his last three games, Jordan has shot 10/23 (43.5%) from beyond the arc, showing confidence in his jump shot.
Still, the return from injury of backup point guard Jamal Branch - who chips in two assists per game, some crafty moves at the rim, and just under five points per match - and shot blocking force Chris Obekpa, who averages five rebounds and three blocks per game - are essential to the St. John's attack.
Freshman Amar Alibegovic, a backup forward with a physical streak, and athletic wing Felix Balamou have been helpful, but not the impact players that Branch and Obekpa can be.
Providence is very tall - one of the tallest teams in the country by minutes-weighted height, in fact. With all that length, the Friars have been able to rebound solidly, score at the rim and crash the offensive glass.
The size is nice. But the Friars have been led by point guard Kris Dunn, who has emerged from seasons lost with injury to become the Big East co-Player of the Year and also the defensive Player of the Year. Dunn, a 6'3" guard, is the league's leading assist man at almost eight dimes per game, while scoring 17 points and adding six rebounds per league game.
And he forces just under three steals per game for good measure.
Ed Cooley's squad has LaDontae Henton, who also received all-Big East honors, as their leading scorer in league play. Henton averaged 20 points and seven rebounds per game.
Senior center Carson Desrosiers' shot blocking (two blocks per game) has been influential, as have freshman center Ben Bentil's rebounding and minutes. Still, Cooley rides Dunn and Henton as long as he can, two of the league's more dynamic backcourt players.
The Friars don't attempt many three-pointers; and in conference play, they have been one of the worst teams at making shots outside the arc. At 28.5% from the three, the Friars know that the paint - where they have a size advantage - is where they can make scoring noise.
St. John's Keys to the Game
What does St. John's need to do to earn another shot at knocking off Villanova - this time at full strength?
Do it again. St. John's has been able to beat the Friars by both forcing them to defend a running Red Storm and forcing the Friars to take contested threes - and miss. Just as importantly, the Johnnies forced the Friars to shoot 45% at the rim; Dom Pointer and Chris Obekpa's shot blocking has to come up huge tomorrow against the size of Providence.
Find good shots. The Red Storm needs to continue to find good open shots against what should be an inspired Providence side. Rysheed Jordan and Phil Greene IV can make shots, especially if the Johnnies get early offense opportunities and kick the ball out. Finding shots at the rim and open shots from beyond the arc are paramount.
Minimize mistakes. The wrong kind of mistake - live ball turnovers against the likes of Kris Dunn - will give the Friars confidence and easy shots at the rim in transition. And foul trouble will expose the Johnnies' lack of depth. St. John's has to play smart, organized, mistake free basketball, memorizing tendencies and not committing fouls of frustration.
I leave predictions to our writer Troy, but what the heck. A mature and ready St. John's squad beats Providence a third time, but it's closer. 74-69, Red Storm.
What's your score prediction?