Fourth-seeded Providence College will begin defense of its Big East championship on Thursday with a matchup against fifth-seeded St. John’s. Will the Friars be able to reverse their fortunes this year against the Red Storm or will prior form play out?

It’s time to throw the ball up and play basketball. Here’s a peek at how our Fearless Forecasters see this game.

Richard Coren
We’ve heard ad nauseum about matchups and how St. John’s is a bad matchup for Providence. That can’t be ignored but it’s not the whole story. True, PC tends to struggle against athletic teams loaded with wings that can shoot, run and defend. Kind of like St. John’s and Villanova, their draw in this year’s Big East Tournament. But isn’t that true of most teams? Wouldn’t most teams struggle against that combination? The thing is, St. John’s is playing very well right now and that’s more frightening. Throw out their drubbing by Villanova. Chris Obekpa and Jamal Branch missed that game and the Johnnies, like most teams, need all of their pieces. Plus, Nova is just better. Figure Obekpa to be back strong while Branch may still be hobbled a bit but D’Angelo Harrison, Rysheed Jordan, Phil Greene and Sir’Dominic Pointer are all a handful and very difficult to defend. Kris Dunn can only defend so many guys and Pointer is a player who really gives LaDontae Henton fits. Forget the “tough to beat the same team three times in one season” rationale – if you’re the better team, or believe you are, you want to play a team 100 times. For Providence to win, other players – Ben Bentil, Kyron Cartwright, Tyler Harris, Carson Desrosiers inside against Obekpa – must step up. The Friars think they can win; St. John’s, after its two wins this year against PC, believes it is the better team and that they will win. That may be the difference. That, and St. John’s is the hotter team right now.
Prediction: St. John’s 75 Providence 68

Steve Hartnett
This is not the draw that the Friars or their fans wanted. To advance to the Big East Final again, Providence will have to beat two teams they are a combined 0-4 against. So expectations are not all that high that Providence will make noise this year at MSG. However, that’s a spot that PC tends to play their best ball under Ed Cooley; when they’re overlooked, underestimated, counted out. Any time you have LaDontae Henton and Kris Dunn, you’ve got a shot to beat almost anyone in a tournament situation – just ask Notre Dame.

In order to beat St. John’s, Providence needs to be very good, and a little lucky. If Chris Obekpa and Jamal Branch are limited in their effectiveness, it will make things easier for the Friars, particularly on the offensive end and in the second half due to St John’s lack of depth. Secondly, the key to defending St. John’s isn’t just a matter of limiting made 3 point shots, it’s more about limiting Rysheed Jordan, who has emerged in recent weeks as the go to scorer for the Red Storm. As Jordan goes, so go the Johnnies on offense. Providence is a sleeper pick by some to make another run in New York, despite the poor matchups. It’s a credit to the respect people have for Ed Cooley as a coach and would be a tremendous story, but the odds are against it right now.
Prediction: St. John’s 75 Providence 71

St. John's and Providence are both coming off losses during their regular season finales. The Red Storm lost in blowout fashion to Villanova and the Friars lost after trying to mount a comeback against Butler. Chris Obekpa and Jamal Branch didn't play in that Villanova game but Zach Braziller of the NY Post is reporting that both are expected to play against the Friars though they will be game-time decisions. LaDontae Henton will be looking to bounce back from a tough Senior Day outing though he will be shadowed by the Big East co-Defensive Player of the Year in Sir'Dominic Pointer. I expect Henton to get some open looks by design and Kris Dunn to come out playing free and loose. The Friars need to have a good first few minutes and not allow themselves to be in the locker room at halftime needing to comeback from an 8-10 point or worse deficit. This game will be tight all the way but I think Providence does enough to squeak out a second straight Big East Tournament quarterfinal win over the Red Storm.
Prediction: Providence 71 St. John’s 67

In the 10 games starting with St. John's home win vs. Providence on Jan. 31 and ending before the Red Storm's defensive debacle at Villanova on Saturday, St. John's defense was actually (and surprisingly) good -- 1.03 points allowed per possession in those 10 games, a mark that would have rated SJU No. 4 in the Big East had it been over the entire season. In its other eight Big East games, St. John's allowed opponents to score at a 1.16 points per possession rate that would have ranked dead last for the full season. Everything improved for St. John's defense, but the primary improvements were better field-goal defense and less fouling. The Red Storm is now middle-of-the-pack in the Big East in those defensive stats, vast improvements over where they were entering the second PC game. This is all to say that it looks like St. John's defensive improvement is real, particularly if Chris Obekpa is able to play as expected Thursday. The Friars don't have the array of shooter and dribble penetrators that Villanova used to bend St. John's defense to destruction, and no other St. John's opponent besides PC allowed the Johnnies to score at least 1.10 PPP in both games. SJU can hurt the PC zone with three players who have made at least 40 3-pointers and hit 15-of-30 in the two games vs. PC, and the Friars have yet to figure out how to defend St. John's guards on the pick and roll. I have a gut feeling the Friars turn it around with better shooting, dominance on the glass and a better defensive gameplan -- and St. John's may wilt late due to lack of depth -- but I'll make this pick with my head and pray I'm wrong.
Prediction: St. John’s 76 Providence 67

Providence – St. John’s, oh boy. After a vigorous loss against Butler on senior night for Providence, they are now forced with a tough road ahead in the Big East Tournament, with the Johnnies and Villanova ahead. There is no doubt how good Providence is, or better yet, can be. The Friars have struggled many times this season in the first half, surging second half comebacks getting themselves back into the game. Sometimes the outcomes were good and sometimes they were tough losses. Enter St. John’s. The Red Storm have been playing some of their best basketball as of late, which is bad timing for Providence. St. John’s went 2-0 against Providence this year, as they’ll be looking for the season sweep on their home floor at Madison Square Garden. Steve Lavin’s team is 7-3 at MSG this season, with each of those 3 losses coming against top-10 ranked teams. Sir Dominic Pointer and Kris Dunn were named Big East Co-Defensive Players of the Year, respectively. Pointer and Dunn will each be key factors on the outcome of the game. The Friars will have their hands full keeping Pointer, D’Angelo Harrison, and Phil Greene, from having big games. The backcourt matchup will be fun to watch, as I think Kris Dunn will be dominate in the world’s most famous arena. Carson Desrosiers has been playing with a hurt knee as of late, but is feeling much better. Desrosiers will have another physical game down low battling Chris Obekpa, who was a highly touted PC recruit at one time. Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton are ready to lead the way for the Friars, as they have been doing all season long. With over a dozen NBA scouts expected to be in attendance for the game, I expect Dunn and Henton to have a great game. However, with the veterans leading the way, I expect St. John’s to continue playing great basketball leading the Red Storm to victory, with their bench be a significant factor in the outcome. I hope I’m wrong, but hopefully third times the charm for the defending Big East Champions.
Prediction: St. John’s 74 Providence 67

There aren't many matchups I hate more than our matchup against St. John's. This team didn't just beat us twice, they dismantled us. The way you used to dissect frogs in science class is the same way the Red Storm dissected the Friars, and I have no faith that a third time will result in something different.

But let's pretend it could. How would it be done? The Friars need to eliminate the zone and play man on defense, they need to make smarter shots, and they need big plays out of Henton and Dunn. There can be no more first half comatose games - we're officially in postseason county, and there's no vacancy for lathargic performances. Shut down Pointer and for God's sake don't let Opekpa take advantage of you on the drive. If all that were to happen the Friars can win.

But that's assuming all that will happen, which is a tall glass of water no doubt.

At the same time I have nothing to lose by this prediction so the hell with it - the Friars pull off a miracle and keep the Johnnies from getting the triple.
Prediction: Providence 71 St. John’s 68

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