The Redmen (oops, Red Storm), are 4-13, have lost seven in a row, are 0-7 in the Big East conference, and experiencing one of the worst seasons in their history, similar to UCLA's a year ago.
In an uncommon move, St. John's fired its head coach Mike Jarvis during the season, back in December, and are being coached on an interim basis by assistant Kevin Clark. Apparently Jarvis was fired because he had a run-in with the university president. A month before, Red Storm senior guard Willie Shaw was arrested for marijuana possession.
This is a team whose morale is about as low as it can get at this point and doesn't have much to play for.
Which means they don't have anything to lose. Which means UCLA will be under a lot of pressure to win this game.
St. John's is not without its talent, albeit it not deep talent. The Red Storm are led by 5-11 sophomore shooting guard Elijah Ingram, who leads the team in scoring. Ingram is a pretty talented player, with good quickness and ballhandling skills that could be challenging for UCLA's guards. He's also a good outside shooter, leading the team in three-point shots made.
Darryl Hill is a 5-10 sophomore point guard who is solid, able to distribute the ball fairly well, as well as shoot the ball. With Ingram and Hill, though, their backcourt is small and, for their size, not as quick as you'd like if you're giving up that many inches.
Grady Reynolds, the 6-9 senior combo forward, is their frontcourt scorer, averaging 12.7 points a game and a team-leading 6.6 rebounds per game. Reynolds is a pretty good athlete who gets most of his points around the basket, with some decent post scoring moves. He doesn't step out very well. Senior Kyle Cuffe, who is 6-7 and probably 235 pounds, lends some muscle and athleticism, but is limited in his skills and feel. 6-9 senior Abe Keita has started at center but only gets about 10 minutes a game.
St. John's likes to go small primarily, taking out Keita and going with 6-3 senior guard Andre Stanley. Stanley isn't much of a scoring threat from the outside, but is a strong, physical guard who likes to get inside and rebound. Also coming off the bench is 6-9 freshman Lamont Hamilton, a big kid who has taken most of the minutes at center and clogs the middle. He as decent lift and is a good shot-blocker. After those six, there isn't much left.
With the team's thin bench and lack of scorers, the Red Storm haven't been able to keep up with its opponents offensively. They're scoring only 63 points a game, with almost 50 of those points coming from four players.
Their defense, though, is decent, and it's kept them in most of their games. Their guards do a solid job of on-the-ball defense, even though they could struggle with UCLA's size, and the Red Storm big men do a competent job of defending the paint.
In their last seven straight losses, five of them were by single-digit deficits. They stayed close with Syracuse as well as Georgia Tech. Their philoosphy is to try to keep scores low, since they don't score much themselves or have much bench, and hope to stay in it long enough to eke out a win.
It sounds a little familiar.
This is the first team on paper in four games – and possibly the last six games – that an opponent clearly has less talent than UCLA. UCLA's starting five are better at every position, and now with Brian Morrison, UCLA has a much superior bench.
This is a game, though, that is going to come down to which team is in a better mental state. UCLA is reeling a bit after four straight losses while St. John's is in a season-long reel mode. It's difficult to get in a worse mental state than the one St. John's is in right now. There is, however, the don't-have-anything-to-lose mentality for St. John's, but their mindset at this point seems to be very similar to UCLA's a year ago. If UCLA plays hard and disciplined early, St. John's will probably resign itself to losing. If the Bruins give St. John's any kind of hint at hope, it could be close. More than likely this one shapes up to be a pretty ugly game, with two struggling offenses, but UCLA's talent is superior enough to win out.
St. John's 55