By John Fanta
NEW YORK – St. John’s fans have been waiting for it since the buzzer sounded on Dec. 29 at the Prudential Center. Frankly, everyone who pays attention to the two programs, and the Big East, has been looking forward to this one.
It’s the most anticipated Seton Hall – St. John’s matchup in 19 years, and it comes inside The World’s Most Famous Arena on Saturday night. On top of it being a rematch of a controversial call leading to a miraculous game-winning three from the Pirates’ Shavar Reynolds to life The Hall to the win, it’s also a matchup for third place in the Big East. It’s a matchup between two teams looking to solidify their NCAA Tournament bids. It’s a matchup between two of the top three stars in the Big East, Shamorie Ponds and Myles Powell. This one has all of the leadup buzz that you could ask for and more.
Here are 10 quick-hitting factors — yes, 10!
- Mentality: Who punches first? Both teams are coming off disappointing losses in a crucial spot, with the Johnnies getting swept away by 19 at Providence and Seton Hall losing by one to Xavier at The Rock. How they come out in the opening minutes will be fascinating. Look for both of these teams to throw their best punches, which leads to our second point.
- Aggression and Composure: For St. John’s, experience is a strength. But, staying composed in this scene is crucial. There’s no question this is a revenge game for the Red Storm. Yet, they lost their cool Wednesday at Providence with Marvin Clark getting tossed and little pushback to make a game of it in the second half. The Johnnies have to be aggressive, but also realize there’s 40 minutes to be played.
- Transition Basketball: Both of these teams are not particularly strong in the halfcourt. Jay Wright calls St. John’s “one of the best transition teams in America,” so it’s more important for The Hall to avoid giving tempo to the Red Storm. The Johnnies lead the Big East with a +4.5 turnover margin. How Quincy McKnight manages this game is crucial.
- Shamorie, Shamorie, Shamorie: Ponds is looking for a “get right” game. In his last three games, the St. John’s star junior guard has shot just 8-for-35 from the field. That has to change for the Red Storm to continue a push to March.
- Interior Blueprint: Seton Hall scored 42 of its 76 points in the paint in the first meeting against St. John’s and caused Marvin Clark and Mustapha Heron to foul out because of it. The Hall made just four triples in that win, but perimeter shooting isn’t their specialty beyond Myles Powell. Utilizing Michael Nzei, Sandro Mamukelashvili and company to make noise inside is what The Hall has to do to apply pressure to the St. John’s defense.
- LJ Figueroa: The hustle plays that Figueroa makes are things that you can’t really account for in preparing for this Red Storm team. Everyone feeds off the JUCO transfer, even those in the seats. His 22-point, 12-rebound performance against Villanova at MSG last Sunday was beyond impressive. If Seton Hall doesn’t box out the 6-foot-6 sophomore, he will flash in for the putback.
- As Myles Powell Goes, The Hall Goes: Seton Hall is 9-0 when Myles Powell scores 25 points or more in games. That held to be true in the junior’s last visit to The Garden on Dec. 8, when he put up 28 to lift The Hall past Kentucky in an overtime epic on Dec. 8, 84-83.
- Halfcourt Execution: If this is a close game in the late-goings, it’s going to come down to half-court basketball. That’s not either of these teams’ strengths, but that’s what it could come down to.
- One-Possession Games: St. John’s is 5-1 in such occurrences. Seton Hall is 5-4. It seems like the Pirates have played many more of these types of games. In fact, 10 of the Pirates’ 14 Big East games have been decided by two possessions or less. SHU is 5-5 in those contests, so nothing to distinguish from that outside of being really experienced in the role.
- The Crowd: Over 18,000 tickets are out and a sellout could still be in order. How much of an advantage will St. John’s have? Will Hall fans make their presence felt? Exactly three weeks from Big East Championship Saturday, this is the perfect stage for the Big East.
This one, simply put, is going to be fun. You can catch me on AM 570 WMCA The Mission for the radio call as well as Sirius XM Channel 380 or on Tune In as well.