Tonight’s matchup at MSG features a struggling 7-9 St. John’s team versus the 13th ranked, albeit injured, Pittsburgh Panthers.
St. John’s is in the middle of a in conference death sentence coming off consecutive loses to Connecticut, Depaul, and West Virginia, with Pittsburgh kicking off a three game week that also includes Big East powerhouses Louisville and Georgetown. If St. John’s play stays to form they will be looking at a 1-7 January, not to mention all games were in conference play, leaving their Big East tournament hopes seriously in doubt. St. John’s currently holds the 14th slot in the Big East, a game back of Syracuse in 12th, the final team to have a date at the Garden this March at this time.
Although St. John’s has knocked off the Panthers the last three times they squared off at the Garden (including a win over a, then, 15-0 Pitt squad two years ago) they don’t give many fans the thought that this year’s matchup will end in the same exuberance.
Forget the two ugly losses on the road to WVU and UConn over the last few weeks, and the embrassing home loss to Depaul in which the Red Storm blew a nine point lead in the second half, they are overmatched against the Panthers.
Even without starting point guard Levance Fields and small forward Mike Cook the Panthers still are a formidable obstacle, just ask Georgetown who sustainted their only Big East loss to Pitt a little more than a week ago with Cook and Fields on the sidelines.
As all Pitt teams, they are extremely tough. Sam Young leads the team in points per game but is probably better on the defensive side. High school teammate of D.J. Kennedy, DeJaun Blair is a husky body down low and is also a top notch defensive player. Mearly a freshmen, Blair is averaging a double-double in Big East play.
St. John’s should get annihilated the boards, if Anthony Mason Jr. continues to not rebound, snatching up only 5 a game in the Big East. Center Dele Coker is expected to start, perhaps offsetting Pitt’s huge edge on the boards.
Point guard Eugene Lawerence is expected to be limited tonight after sustaining a bruised quad near the conclusion of the WVU game, the first time the injury bug has bit Geno in his tenure at St. John’s.
Keys to Victory
-As always a big game from leading scorer Anthony Mason Jr. Mason’s energy last year versus Syracuse at the Garden spurred the Storm on for a big upset win. Need the same here tonight.
-Minimize turnovers. In a game that will probably have the winners scoring in the 70’s at most, every possession is critical. Hopefully more minutes from Boothe can keep the turnover number down to some effect.
-Get D.J. Kennedy back on track. Early on in the season Kennedy was consistently taking the ball to the hole strong, but recently looks overmatched and has turned the ball over on his drives entirely too much. If Kennedy can penetrate the Pittsburgh defense it gives the Johnnies another dimension on offense.
-Compromise the Pitt offense. Pitt can both pound the ball down low and shoot the three, especially when Bronx product Ronald Ramon is on from downtown. St. John’s will not stop Pitt’s offense as a whole, but they most either guard the three or pack it in down low.
Prediction: Pittsburgh has a tough time stopping Blair down low and the three ball becomes open for the Panthers.
Pitt: 72 STJ: 63
Tonight’s game is a 7 o'clock tip and can be seen and heard on MSG and WFAN 660.
Check back at halftime for a update and some brief thoughts.