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Friars at Red Storm: Beware of the Johnnies

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Game time: Thursday, Jan. 16 at 7:00 pm
Location: Carnesecca Arena, Queens, NY
Television: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 103.7 WEEI

It wasn't supposed to be this way for St. John's.

Few expected a team with their talent to open conference play at 0-4, but a difficult schedule has put the Johnnies (9-7 overall) in a hole.  Steve Lavin's bunch has played three of their first four conference games on the road, with two coming against 3-1 teams in Georgetown and Xavier, and their only home game was a 74-67 loss to Villanova. The Red Storm have played the nation's 12th most difficult schedule (taking on Syracuse and Wisconsin helps there), and Thursday night's game against Providence caps a busy stretch in which St. John's will play three games in six days.

Desperate for a win, talented, and playing in the Carnesecca Arena, this is a dangerous opponent for the Friars. Lavin is 24-4 on campus since taking over at St. John's and 6-0 this season. PC fans will certainly remember the last time the Friars made the trip to Queens. It was Ed Cooley's Big East debut in December 2011, and a young St. John's team ran away from Providence, 91-67, behind a pair of freshmen in Mo Harkless (32 points) and D'Angelo Harrison (25).

Just over two years later, Harrison is now a veteran and one of the most explosive scorers in the Big East. The junior was a question for their loss to DePaul on Tuesday, but played through it and scored 25 points. He also passed the legendary Mark Jackson on the school's all-time scoring list with over 1,300 points. Harrison is third in the league in scoring behind Bryce Cotton and Creighton's Doug McDermott, and with 166 three pointers made, he's the record holder at St. John's.

Harrison leads a roster that is as athletically talented as any in the Big East, yet Lavin has struggled to find the right combinations to date.

Few would have expected JaKarr Sampson and Chris Obekpa to log less than 20 minutes in any game, but that's just what happened on Tuesday against DePaul. The Big East's Rookie of the Year last season, Sampson is playing through a terrible shooting slump, and while Obekpa remains a terrifying shot blocker (his 4.1 per game are second in the country), he's still a non-entity on offense (3.5 ppg) and an inconsistent presence on the glass (5.3 rpg). Sampson is due for a breakout game, and if he can give St. John's anything close to the 22/6 stat line he had in Providence last March (a PC victory) the Friars could be in trouble.

Lavin has plenty of options beyond his three most notable players. Freshman combo guard Rysheed Jordan was thought to be the most talented newcomer in the Big East, and he's beginning to show flashes, most recently with 16 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists on Tuesday, while versatile Orlando Sanchez and the athletic Sir'Dominic Pointer provide depth in the frontcourt.

So, why has St. John's struggled in conference play? They're the only Big East team shooting under 40% in Big East games, and they've been atrocious on the defensive glass (last in the league in both defensive rebounding and defensive rebounding percentage). They are a team that will turn others over (first in the league in both steals and blocks in conference play), but Providence will have an opportunity to win this one where they won so many games a season ago -- on the offensive glass.

The Friars are currently fourth in the league at getting their own misses, and this is potentially a game for Kadeem Batts to assert himself once again after a strong showing (21 points) in the win over Georgetown. After spending much of last season averaging over three offensive rebounds a game, the senior is down to two this year.  Against St. John's last season Batts grabbed six offensive rebounds and finished a busy night with 15 points and nine rebounds.

Bryce Cotton led PC with five 3 pointers and 24 points in last March's win, while Kris Dunn grabbed 12 rebounds for PC.  The win marked the sixth victory in seven games for the Friars.

Here's a look back at last season's win, including the postgame press conference in which Lavin said Cooley got his vote for Big East Coach of the Year.

Follow Kevin on Twitter: @Kevin_Farrahar


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