Pregame: Syracuse vs. St. John's

The Syracuse Orange (15-4/4-1) travel to New York City to take on the St. Johns Red Storm (10-8/4-1) this Saturday afternoon at 2 PM. The game will be played at Madison Square Garden, the site of SU's early season loss to Oklahoma State. The Red Storm is riding a four game losing streak, while the Orange counter with a four game win streak.

St. Johns Season to Date: The Johnnies have had a pretty rough season so far. They have lost their last four games, none of which have been closer than 8 points. If you take out the 7 game win streak from late November to late December, they've won only 3 of 11 games. That win streak was more a function of the competition than a reflection on how well the Red Storm was playing, as New Jersey Institute of Technology, Columbia University, and Long Island University are not exactly top NCAA teams. St. John's best win was in their season opener against DePaul. They did manage to come within one point of beating Texas in mid-November.

Personnel: For the past two seasons, the St. Johns attack has been spearheaded by Darryl "Showtime" Hill. This year, he has struggled to overcome a bad knee and has missed two games and been displaced in the starting lineup. Hill, who is usually good for 15+ ppg, has been limited to only 6.3 ppg this year in 25 minutes per game.

Four players have been consistent starters – 6-4 JR G Avery Patterson, 6-9 SR F Lamont Hamilton, 6-7 SO F Anthony Mason Jr, and 6-1 JR G Eugene Lawrence. The final starting slot has been a revolving door manned by at times by Aaron Spears, Daryll Hill, or Tomas Jasiulionis.

Patterson, a transfer from Iowa Western JC, has been the team's most consistent scorer on the wing. He shoots a ton of three point shots and is near the top of the big east with 50 made trifectas. While he is not a great shooter, he can get very hot at times, as evidenced by the 5 shots he hit from beyond the arc in the Red Storm's last game against DePaul.

Eugene Lawrence, the starting point guard, is averaging about 5 assists per contest, which is no easy task considering how offensively challenged the Johnnies are. He is usually good for about 6 to 10 points each night out, and is leading the team in steals.

The other starters are solid, but unspectacular. Hamilton was a very promising prospect as a freshman and sophomore, but he has failed to expand his game and as such has been stuck at the 13 ppg/ 7 reb mark for three years now. He usually plays pretty well against SU, as he is good at finding the seems in the zone and reading weakside rebounds for easy putbacks.

Anthony Mason Jr. is a well-rounded player who can do a little bit of everything. He's improved a lot since last year and looks positioned to become one of the better players in the Big East as an upperclassman. St. Johns brings two freshmen off the bench in 6-8 F Qa'rraan Calhoun and Larry Wright. Expect to see a lot of Wright tonight as he is the team's designated sharpshooter and will be used against the SU zone.

Outlook: St. Johns is one of the worst offensive teams in the Big East, scoring only about 65 points per game. To underscore this point, consider that they scored only 45 points in an OVERTIME victory over Boston University earlier in the year. In Big East play, they are shooting under 40% from the field as a team and average under 60 points.

They compensate for the lack of offense by playing a scrappy style of game that emphasizes defense and attempts to force a helter-skelter on the opponent. Despite the style of play, St. Johns has not been particularly adept at forcing turnovers. Couple that with a small-ish frontline that does not rebound well, and the Johnnies are actually giving up more shot attempts to their opponents than they take themselves. This is not a recipe for success in Big East play.

Syracuse, of course, has two major weaknesses this year – turnovers and sometimes lackadaisical defensive rebounding. Both of these play into St. Johns hands, as the Red Storm will want to make this game as ugly as possible. Syracuse must do a better job of taking care of the ball than it has in recent games. The Orange have been awful in the ballhandling department – giving up 17.4 turnovers per contest in conference play. They are 3rd worst in turnover margin at -4.4.

St. Johns does not shoot the ball well and is not very disciplined on offense, so you can bet on a lot of ill-advised long-range shots that will lead to a lot of long rebounds, the type that aren't easy to track down in the zone. The top of the SU zone will have to be active and assertive in tracking down these misses.

With Notre Dame's recent loss to Villanova, the Syracuse is now in sole possession of 2nd place in the Big East. With tough road games against Louisville and Connecticut in the near future, it will be important for SU to come out with a victory over an undermanned St. Johns team today. Given Syracuse's near-catastrophic collapse against Cincinnati earlier this week, the Orange shouldn't take any game for granted, but this is still a game that the Orange should win.

St. Johns will have no answer for SU's top two offensive players, nor will they have the size to compete with Roberts and Watkins up front. As long as everyone comes to play, SU should be able to come away with a victory.

Prediction: Syracuse 69 St. Johns 61. Demetris Nichols posts his third straight 20+ point game and Josh Wright tracks down 5 or more loose ball rebounds.

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