A week from today, Georgetown makes its debut at the Big East Tournament with a post-season bid in the balance. But without a win against St. John's Tuesday, it won't mean as much.
Georgetown knows that every game from here on out is do or die for its post-season, and if there are any contingencies out there which could steer the Hoyas back into the NCAA tournament conversation, two wins this week are essential. To do so, they'll need to come to play against a St. John's club that, while unlikely, could qualify for its first NIT bid in six years with wins over Georgetown and Notre Dame this week. To do so, they'll have to take a marked step up in shooting, which has struggled for much of the season.
The St. John's backcourt starts with Paris Horne, a converted sixth man who has leads the team in scoring (14.2 ppg) and is the team's best offensive option. Horne is shooting 47 percent from the field as a guard, and that alone has kept St. John's competitive in games this season. Point guard Malik Booth is less of an offensive threat, especially from three, but is the best assist threat for a St. John's team that ranks last in the league in assists.
St. John's may have a favorable matchup in 6-6 D.J. Kennedy against a taller but slower 6-8 Nikita Mescheriakov. Kennedy has slumped in recent games but can help out on rebounding, a statistic the Redmen have used to its favor in its last two wins. In a 70-65 upset of Seton hall, St. John's outrebounded the Hall 49-31. 6-8 power forward Sean Evans, shooting 51 percent from the field, looks to continue the momentum from his 15 points against DePaul, while 6-8 forward remains out of position in the pivot and opposing teams have exploited the inside lanes as a result.
The St. John's bench is thin and somewhat depleted. Its best player, Anthony Mason, Jr., was lost early in the season, and of the remaining reserves, 6-6 forward Rob Thomas (6.1 ppg) has been the most productive. With the suspension to center Dele Coker, the Redmen have only one player taller than 6-8 left on the roster.
Either way, St. John's doesn't quit. They play hard-nosed basketball, particularly at home, where the Redmen are 4-4 in conference games at MSG or Carnesecca Arena. Despite its relative strength at home for a 5-11 squad, the Redmen are near the bottom in attendance, and a similar crowd is expected for this one.
If Georgetown learned anything from Saturday's nail-biter with Villanova, it is that turnovers kill. It's a lesson also learned at St. John's, which ranks 15th in the league compared to Georgetown's 13th in turnover margin. But Georgetown also needs to play to its strengths, particularly inside, where consistent play from Dajuan Summers and Greg Monroe (particularly in the second half) can allow Georgetown the breathing room it needs and limit the kind of passes which lead to turnovers. Since neither team specializes in comebacks, getting an early lead and keeping it will be a point of emphasis for both squads.
Some keys to the game:
2. The Last Four Minutes: Georgetown may have won the Villanova game with its efforts late in the first half. Another strong finish before halftime could be key.
3. Jessie Sapp: Sapp could be an invaluable defensive weapon on Horne, and has saved some of his best games for his hometown audience.
1. Mid-Range Shots: If St. John's is to get significant point production, it won't come from inside and likely not from three, where the Redmen are shooting at 31% overall, but in the mid-range shot. Georgetown must control the forwards and reduce offensive rebound opportunities.
Georgetown matches up well with each of its final two opponents in the regular season, but matchups don't win games. In a season where the Hoyas have struggled on the road, a win Tuesday would keep the post-season alive, and make next week's return even more important.