St. John's Preview

Wednesday night's match up between No. 19/19 Notre Dame and St. John's is a battle between two teams headed in opposite directions. The Irish, coming off a 98-91 win at DePaul are 11-2 of their past 13 games, while the Red Storm are breathing easier after snapping a five-game losing streak with a 65-62 win over Seton Hall.

The game will mark the last home contest for Notre Dame (22-6, 12-4) this season, with only one other obstacle remaining on the schedule: South Florida on the road on Saturday.

A great deal of Notre Dame's success is owed to star forward Luke Harangody. For the third time this season, the sophomore was named the Big East's Player of the Week after his standout performances against Louisville and DePaul. At the rate he is going, however, Harangody could be receiving greater conference honors as he leads the league in scoring with 21.5 points per game, and is second in rebounding with 10.5 boards per contest.

St. John's (11-17, 5-11) will need to defend Harangody with physicality if they are to succeed against the Irish Wednesday. Notre Dame will look to feed the ball early and often to the forward, running its offense through the low post. Part of the reason as to why Harangody is so effective is his relentless effort in aggressively attacking the paint. The Red Storm must also be sure not to resort to fouling the Irish leading scorer — shaking the stereotype of the poor free-throw shooting big man, Harangody shoots 77% from the stripe.

Look for Red Storm to alternate between forwards Anthony Mason Jr. and Justin Burrell to have the burden of guarding the Big East's leading scorer. Since both players tip the scales at over 200 pounds, they can use their larger frames to clash with Harangody. However, the bulk comes with a price: Mason is 6-foot-7 while Burrell is only one inch taller, causing the Red Storm to put out a shorter squad on the floor.

Senior center Rob Kurz has also stepped up his play as of late, minus his struggles at Louisville last week. Kurz notched in 21 points and seven rebounds against DePaul, and with the Red Storm lack of height, he could have a productive night if his shots start to fall. Against the Blue Demons, Kurz sank four of his five attempts from beyond the arc. The senior captain will be playing for the last time in the Joyce Center Wednesday and will certainly be playing with greater emotion and passion to impress the Irish faithful for one last evening.

One Irish player that has struggled as of late, despite going on a tear throughout February is point guard Tory Jackson. The sophomore has produced only 12 points in his past two games, and only nine boards. Look for Jackson to break out of his recent slump against the Red Storm and return to his tenacious form on both sides of the ball. Going into the final stretch of the season and the upcoming Big East tournament, the Irish will need their floor general to be on top of his game, and Wednesday night's game could be a perfect tune up for the slumping sophomore.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Red Storm will try to get their forward duo of Mason Jr. and Burrell the ball, as the pair accounts for over a third of the squad's points. St. John's is last in the Big East in scoring, picking up only 62 per contest, contrasting with Notre Dame's first-place mark in the league with 81.6 per game. Taking the Red Storm offensive struggles into account, Wednesday night's game could be a much-needed tune-up for the Irish to work on their defensive basics and improve on their weaknesses.

When the Irish go to a man-to-man scheme, Harangody, Hillesland, and Kurz will most likely share the duty of defending the prolific scorers. However, Irish head coach Mike Brey likes to switch to a 1-2-2 zone he has employed throughout the season that features Hillesland and Ryan Ayers at the top of the key pressuring the ball handler.

All in all, Notre Dame should take care of business and extend its home winning streak to 37 games at the JACC Wednesday night. The Irish should receive their regular contributions from their starters, but this contest could be about bench production. Ayers, Luke Zeller and Jonathan Peoples have all had big games within the past month, finding their role and picking up points, rebounds and simply giving their team what is necessary to win. If Notre Dame is clicking on all cylinders, St. Johns could become the latest victim to fall to the Joyce Center, as the Irish head into South Florida to complete the regular season.


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