Tonight's opponent St. John's erupted for an unexpected 9-1 start to the non-conference season that included wins over solid Siena and (now) No. 21 Temple. Since an acceptable five-point loss at Cornell (currently ranked No. 22nd) dropped them to 9-2, the Johnnies had dropped 8 of their last 12 including five consecutive in Big East play, with a 12-point loss at Rutgers serving as the skid's chief offense.
Thursday night the Red Storm played its best game in nearly two months, upsetting a distracted Louisville squad, never trailing in a 19-point blowout win.
Below is a closer look at tonight's matchup between the Red Storm and the Irish. Tip-off is set for 7:30 pm (ET). The game can be viewed on ESPN's Full-Court College Basketball package or DirecTV channels 639 (SNY) and 640 (MASN)
Meet the Red StormHead coach Norm Roberts owns a 77-95 mark in his six seasons at St. John's.
- Forward D.J. Kennedy leads the Red Storm in scoring (15.0) rebounds per game (6.5) assists (3.2) steals (1.6) and turnovers per game (2.6) while hitting and attempting the most field goals (44.7 percent) and free throws (75.2 percent) on the squad.
The 6'6" junior from Pittsburgh destroyed the Irish at Madison Square Garden last January (20 points, 10 boards, 4 assists), a game in which the Red Storm upset then No. 10-ranked Notre Dame, 71-65. He was held to five points on 2-9 shooting in the rematch in South Bend though Kennedy was hounded by the now graduated Ryan Ayers for the bulk of the contest.
The left-handed has a solid mid-range game (and a tremendous pull-up jumper) but after scoring in double figures in 14 consecutive to begin the season, has since slowed with just four games in excess of 10 points in the Red Storm's last eight outings. Irish junior forward Tim Abromaitis will have to work to keep Kennedy off the boards – the junior has totaled 30 in St. John's last four games.
- Anthony Mason, Jr. joined the Red Storm in mid-January after injuring his hamstring in the pre-season. Mason is a fifth-year player after receiving a medical redshirt following a torn tendon in his foot during November of last year.
The 6'7" forward (son of former New York Knicks forward/enforcer Anthony Mason) has worked his way back into the mix though Mason was a gunner/scorer prior to his leg and foot injuries, and was a high-volume shooter and focal point of the offense as a sophomore in 2007-08.
- Shooting guard Paris Horne hurt the Irish last season with his man-to-man defensive effort vs. Kyle McAlarney in the Red Storm's upset win over the Irish at Madison Square Garden. Look for the 6'3" junior to attack Irish guard Ben Hansbrough defensively though Hansbrough is adept at taking his defender off the dribble and creating opportunities for teammates on the perimeter.
Offensively, Horne can get to the rim and ranks third on the team in scoring at 8.2 points per game. Though not a feared long-range marksman, Horne is part of a trio of decent three-point shooting Johnnies; he's hit 36 percent of his 77 shots from beyond the arc this season.
- Point guard Malik Boothe will run the show for the visitors. At 5'9" 185, Boothe is extremely quick and has emerged as a solid one-on-one defender vs. the dribbler. He remains a poor outside shooter and can be pressured into mistakes. He's not a scoring threat aside from the occasional drive or turnover situation.
- Junior F/C Sean Evans will use his girth body control to establish post position against Notre Dame's vulnerable interior defense. Key to Evans' approach is the presence of fellow big man Rob Thomas spelling him off the bench. Evans and Thomas work well in tandem with Justin Burrell, a solid weak side defender and rebounder. The three big men will attempt to control the paint with Harangody. The Irish will have their hands full with this much more physical and aggressive trio of bigs.
- Burrell (6'8" 235) has posted double-figures in four straight and can be counted on for at least eight boards in 20-plus minutes tonight vs. the undermanned Irish. He burned the Irish for 18 points with an effective turnaround jumper in last season's upset win. He's a tough cover for the Irish with the quickness and ball handling skills to bother Tyrone Nash while his strength will give Carleton Scott problems under the rim.
Thomas has been intermittently out due to a groin injury this season but returned to action on Wednesday in St. John's blowout win over Louisville. Thomas is a beast in the paint that consistently fights for rebounds.
Two junior-college transfers have played a key role this season for the Red Storm. Junior forward Justin Brownlee (7.5 points and 5.4 rebounds in 20 minutes per game) and guard Dwight Hardy (10.7 points in 23 minutes per contest) give the visitors an advantage over Notre Dame's short bench. The 6'2" Hardy provides speed and aggressiveness off the bench and could hurt the Irish with penetration and his ability to finish near the hoop.
- Whom to Foul?: Paris Horne (51.5% on 33 attempts); Sean Evans (49.1% on 57 attempts); Rob Thomas (45.5% in limited time, but just 55.5% last season); Anthony Mason, Jr., who's struggled since returning at 64.7% and Dele Coker (27-55 career) should the situation arise.
Kennedy, Harvey, Burrell, Brownlee, and Boothe all hit on between 72-77% from the charity stripe.
Previous MatchupThe Irish defeated the Red Storm 74-55 last March on Senior Day. Luke Harangody led all scorers with 31 points whle Ryan Ayers added 15. St. John's forwards Justin Burrell and Sean Evans added 17 and 11 points respectively for the cold-shooting visitors (29%).
The teams' squared off in early January of last season as well, a 71-65 upset win over then No. 10 Notre Dame at Madison Square Garden, a contest in which the Johnnies outrebounded Notre Dame by a 41-30 margin while collecting 15 on the offensive glass.
Stats and Streaks
- Senior guard Tory Jackson dropped a few rungs on the nation's list of playmakers after his 6-assist, 6-turnover night at Seton Hall. His 3.11 assist-to-turnover ratio ranks fifth nationally while classmate Ben Hansbrough still ranks third at 3.21.
- Redshirt-junior Tim Abromaitis remains locked in at second place nationally with a 48.3 percent effort from beyond the arc. His 88.9 percent accuracy from the charity stripe ranks 19th nationally.
- Luke Harangody is tied for third among the country's top scorers (24.1 ppg). He needs 82 points to become the Big East's all-time leading scorer and 136 to break Austin Carr's mark at Notre Dame. Carr starred for three seasons (1968-71) prior to the addition of freshman eligibility.
- Notre Dame currently ranks first nationally with a 1.76 assist-to-turnover ratio; 3rd in assists per game (18.2); 9th in three-point field goal percentage (40.6)1st at 1.76; and 25th in team field goal percentage (47.7).
- Notre Dame holds a 19-15 advantage in the all-time series with St. John's including a 9-5 edge in Big East conference games. Mike Brey is 6-4 vs. the Red Storm.
- Neither program has won more than two consecutive games in the series since Notre Dame took three straight from 1969-71.
- Notre Dame is 29-4 in its last 33 Big East home games dating back to the beginning of the 2007 conference season.
- The Irish have been installed as a 4.5-point favorite for tonight's contest.
PredictionObjectively, tonight's contest between St. John's and the Harangody-less Irish seems like the ideal time for the Red Storm to snap out of their 1-6 road funk (0-5 in conference play). The Johnnies have dropped 12 of their last 13 road contests dating back to the beginning of the 2009 conference season with the lone victory coming at DePaul (the Blue Demons finished winless in 18 regular season conference games last season).
This season, the Red Storm has led at halftime in six of their losses, including four of their last five.
St. John's has the athletes and defensive mindset to stymie Notre Dame's perimeter game and maul the Irish on the boards with Harangody safely tucked away on the bench in street clothes.
The Irish are certainly ripe for an upset without the program's best player and one of its all-time greats. But this is an ideal scenario for senior leader Tory Jackson to rally the troops. To impart his will to win on a group that need's his guidance, and for the Irish to play as a unit, inspired by what should be a sympathetic home crowd.
Expect a fast start; a double-double and five fouls from Tyrone Nash; a revved-up crowd that will treat its home team as an underdog (regardless of the point spread) and a few dry spells on the scoreboard due to the visitors' man-to-man defense…and expect the Irish to prevail in a one-game scenario without Harangody.