UPDATING THE RED STORM
Since dropping a 73-64 decision to WVU on Jan. 17, the Red Storm have looked more like a gentle shower for opponents. St. John's has managed just four wins against nine losses, and will need some help in order to make the Big East tournament. The Johnnies are one game behind DePaul and Providence, so would need a win over the Mountaineers plus losses by either of those schools to even get into a tiebreaker situation for the 12th and final spot in the league tournament. The Blue Demons hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over St. John's, while the Red Storm has the advantage over Providence, so the battle for the final spot will go right down to the wire on Saturday.
In order for the Johnnies to even be in the picture, however, they must first defeat West Virginia, and they will have plenty of motivation to do so. St. John's is playing the final game of its 100th season of basketball in the Garden, and there's now doubt that a win would help ease some of the sting of what has been a disappointing season. With head coach Norm Roberts continuing to come under fire, a win would also help quiet a bit of the criticism that has been directed his way.
Anthony Mason (13.8 points per game) and Justin Burrell (11.1 points per outing) continue to key the Red Storm attack. Burrell's 6.1 rebounds per game and 20 blocks are also team bests. He is supported on the glass by D.J. Kennedy (5.8) and Mason (4.5). Freshman Paris Horne has come of late as a key substitute, averaging seven points per outing and providing the Red Storm with another solid long-range shooting threat.
St. John's biggest issue is shooting. The Red Storm average just 40.8% from the field, and despite getting off more shots than their foes, score four points fewer per game. With no starter making more than 44% of his shots, it's often a struggle for the Johnnies to score consistently. As Mountaineer fans have seen at times this year, that makes for problems in winning games over the long haul.
Adding to those problems is a lack of defensive discipline that sometimes results in easier scoring chances for opponents. St. John's doesn't help well on defense, and poor fundamentals often lead to either open shots or poor defensive positioning that results in fouls. Add all those woes together, and the picture of St. John's spot near the bottom of the league is easy to explain.
Despite the naysaying of such pundits as Doug Gottleib, West Virginia is in very good shape to lock up an NCAA bid with a win over St. John's. However, the Mountaineers aren't going to be able to sleepwalk to do it.
|Sat Mar 8
Madison Square Garden
WVU 21-9, 10-7
SJU 11-18, 5-12
|Sirius Channel: 143|
WVU - 34
SJU - 145
If the Mountaineers want to avoid retuning home for an unwanted curtain call, they will have to figure out ways to score consistently, both on Saturday and in next week's Big East tournament. And whether it's threes from Alex Ruoff and Darris Nichols, posts up jumpers by Joe Alexander or attacks on the rim by Joe Mazzulla, Da'Sean Butler or Wellington Smith, WVU must not become tentative or ignore any of the ways in which it can dent the scoreboard. If WVU passes up open jumpers due to lack of confidence, or shies away from driving the ball to the hoop, it becomes much easier to defend – and as a result, its shooting percentage suffers.
Against St. John's, the continued development of a balanced attack will be key, not only in that game but also for the tournament games to come. Keep an eye on West Virginia's shot selection, and where the shots come from on the floor. If it's out of balance, so too might be WVU's chances in the postseason.
WVU: Cam Thoroughman (Knee) Questionable
SJU: None reported
Might getting an extra game at the Garden four days before it opens the Big East tournament be a bonus for West Virginia? While the Mountaineers certainly can't treat this game as a tune-up, it could help WVU's players get acclimated to the background and lighting. Shooting at the Garden is different than in most venues, as the differences in backdrop and light from other arenas are quite pronounced.
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St. John's in its 100th season of hoops, owns a record of 1,680-849. West Virginia, in its 99th season, stands at 1,521-957. in terms of wins, St. John's is seventh all-time, while WVU is 25th.
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While the perception remains that West Virginia has struggled in the World's Most Famous Arena, the fact is that the Mountaineers have won seven of their past ten games at the Garden. WVU has also won its past seven meeting with St. John's.
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St. John's held its senior day festivities during its last home game against Seton Hall, which was played at its on-campus venue in Queens. For the regular season finale against WVU, several videos on the history of St. John's hoops, plus a poster giveaway, will highlight the day's events.