It's long been an axiom of ours that you can make a pretty competitive basketball team with only three very good players.
St. John's, after a rocky early start, looks to be on their way to reaching that level, starting with Marcus Hatten and Anthony Glover.
Hatten, a 6-1 guard has garnered most of the spotlight this year with a 17 points per game scoring average and almost four steals per contest. Hatten is in the top 20 in five different statiscal categories in the Big East, and provides St. John's with the all around guard play that WVU has been lacking.
At forward, Glover has turned in 12.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game as the Red Storm's primary midrange and inside threat. He and Mountaineer forward Chris Moss figure to have an excellent battle in Saturday's contest.
The Red Storm is looking for the third player to make their star trio, and it will likely be sophomore forward Kyle Cuffe, who at 6-8 and 235 pounds provides both outside moves and inside power. Cuffe has missed St. John's last two games, and is doubtful for the WVU contest.
Past those three, St. John's has a decent bench and respectable, if not outstanding, all around play. The big gun in the Red Storm's arsenal is defense - St. John's plays a variety of trpas and zones that confuse opponents and create turnovers and easy opportunities.
WVU's Jonathan Hargett vs. St. John's Marcus Hatten
This one looks pretty simple. Whoever plays the most effective game at the point is going to give his team a huge leg up toward a win.
WVU 0-0, 7-4
SJU 0-1, 9-3
|Sat 1/5 2:00 PM|
|TV: MSG Network
Big East Local
|Line: SJU -11|
Hatten, on the other hand, seems to have mastered the all around play that top point guards display. He has blossomed from an inconsistent performer into one of the best point guards in the East. (Disgruntled WVU fans should note that Hatten is a junior.)
One other factor to keep an eye on is rebounding. Hatten is second on the Red Storm in that stat, despite being only 6-1. Hargett must keep Hatten from getting any second chances and work him hard when he goes into the lane.
The keys will be simple. If Hargett can protect the ball from Hatten's thieving abilities and begin to find that balance, WVU stays in the game and has a chance. If the reverse becomes true, then a blowout in Manhattan will be underway.
WVU: Jonathan Hargett (Knee) - Probable
SJU: Kyle Cuffe (Eye) - Doubtful
Although WVU holds an all time 3-2 lead in games against St. John's at the Garden, that's ancient history. West Virginia will have to bounce back from two straight disheartening losses in this opening conference road test.
In the past, Gale Catlett would attack a team like the Red Storm with a variety of junk defense to try to take either Hatten or Glover out of the game. The Mountaineers have been so poor defensively, however, that WVU hasn't been able to work on these types of alignments very much.
With the strategy bag thus a bit limited, the Red Storm will probably have an advantage on the defensive end. Neither team is shooting the ball very well, so another factor to keep an eye on is early shooting percentage. A ten point lead in this game might be equivalent to 17 or 18 points in other contests.
We noted in our Fiesta Bowl preview that the games should provide a read on whtehr or not WVU was ready to challenge for an NCAA berth. The answer we received was a resounding "NO".
Fortunately, WVU now embarks on the second season with a chance to make up some of those losses, but there's no margin for error now. The Mountianeers will have to win at least 12 games in the conference to have a shot at the NCAAs, and to reach that total WVU must defeat teams like the Red Storm.
St. John's leads the Big East in turnover margin at +6.0 per game. That doesn't bode well against WVU's shaky ballhandling.
* * *
Both coaching staffs display family ties - Drew Catlett for WVU and Mike Jarvis II for St. John's.
* * *
The Red Storm shoot an icy 28.3% from three point range.