Chicago Native Phil Greene Heads Home to Face DePaul

Chicago native Phil Greene has assimilated nicely into the New York culture in his time at St. John’s, but he made one thing clear.

“I’m not a fan of the thin pizza,” he said. “I like the deep dish. That gets you full in, like, three slices.”

Culinary preferences aside, the freshman Greene and his Red Storm teammates head to Chicago on Wednesday night to take on DePaul (11-9, 2-6) at Allstate Arena.

This will be Greene’s first basketball-related trip back to his hometown in his young career with St. John’s, and is expecting 60 friends and family to be in attendance.

“Everyone is excited. They told me they have my back,” he said. “Of course I want to play well and get a win in front of the hometown crowd.”

After a five-game stretch in January when he struggled, Greene has picked his game up, of late, averaging 11 points in his last four contests, including 11 in a win over West Virginia on January 25th.

He credits some of that to a more aggressive attitude from teammate Moe Harkless, who put up 30 points against Duke at Cameron Indoor on Saturday.

“[Harkless’ agressiveness] gets me going. It’s rare you see Moe aggressive. Once he’s aggressive, the whole mood of the game changes,” said Greene.

In early December, fellow St. John’s freshman Sir’Dominic Pointer returned home when the Red Storm went on the road against Detroit.

“[Greene] is ready to play,” said Pointer. “It’s special to go home and see your family, especially when you don’t get to see them a lot.”

“Going back home, shots seem to fall for you. It’s just how it is.”

Greene hopes the hometown magic is working for him tonight at 8:30pm on ESPN3.com.

Moe Harkless 2.0 Unveiled, Big East on Watch

Saturday afternoon’s 83-76 loss to Duke showed a different kind of Moe Harkless.

Put it this way:

As an analogy to a classroom, Moe Harkless came to St. John’s as an “A” student. He aced every test that was put in front of him, participated in class, was a model student. He was someone you could point to and say, “Him, right there. He is a great student.”

But after his 30-point, 13-rebound performance at Cameron Indoor, Harkless is showing how he has grown from the “A” student into a player who can dominate in the future.

The biggest knock on him during his time in Queens has been his lack of aggressiveness, at time, through the first 20 games of his career. Then what happened against Duke?

On his first touch of the game, he drove baseline and slammed it home. No layup. Might as well finish with authority on the road.

He had two more dunks in the first 11 minutes of the game, on his way to becoming the first Red Storm player in the history of the program to put up 30 points at Cameron Indoor.

In the wake of his breakout performance vs. Duke, which was really his second breakout performance, considering his records 32 points in his Big East debut against Providence.

But this was different because it was on national television, at one of the most famous venues in the country, against a Top 10 team.

The national audience got their first glimpse at a future pro.

The most telling part of the game for Harkless, though, was not in his statline or the three dunks he had in the first half.

You can see the change in Moe Harkless by his facial expressions. At almost every camera shot of him during the game, he had a mean, determined-looking scowl on his face that we have not seen from him in the past.

If Harkless keeps that up for the rest of the season, St. John’s may be in line for a few more upsets before the conclusion of 2011-12.

Free Throw Woes Sink St. John’s in Loss to Villanova

After a 4-of-22 shooting stretch by St. John’s to end the first half that gave Villanova a five-point lead at the break, D’Angelo Harrison’s three-pointer with 16:02 to play turned out to be the Red Storm’s biggest turning point, coming out of the gate in the second half.

As the three went down in transition, Harrison flashed a move made famous by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, acting as if he were ripping his shirt open to reveal a Superman costume below.

But despite a strong shooting performance from the floor in the final period, the free throw line proved to be the Red Storm’s Kryptonite on Saturday afternoon.

St. John’s shot 14-of-25 from the line, including 3-of-7 in overtime, and fell to Villanova at Madison Square Garden, 79-76.

“We left the game at the free throw line. It’s that simple.” Mike Dunlap “Rebounding is important, but it still comes down to free throws. Those are easy buckets.”

“I don’t think we ran out of gas, I thought we played tentative,” said St. John’s freshman guard D’Angelo Harrison, who tallied a career-high 28 points before fouling out in overtime. “You can’t do that against a good team like Villanova.”

Maalik Wayns continued his scoring spree in the Big East, pouring in his own 28 points, giving him an average of 31 points per game in his last three contests.

Shooting Percentage Dictates Offense

After two quick D’Angelo Harrison threes and a pro-looking spin-and-slam from Moe Harkless to begin the game, the Red Storm went cold, just 4-of-22 to finish the half.

It seems that when St. John’s applies their athleticism and plays aggressively on the offensive end, the shots start falling around the basket. When they are not, performances prevail like the 4-of-22 stint that ended the half.

Rebounding Still a Problem

Against Villanova bigs like Mouphtaou Yarou and JayVaughn Pinkston, who combined for 25 rebounds on Saturday afternoon, St. John’s continued to struggle to close out possessions, allowing the Wildcats to thrive on second-chance points.

To compensate, St. John’s was able to force 23 Villanova turnovers, but gave the ball away 21 times themselves.
There doesn’t seem to be an immediate fix for St. John’s rebounding woes, as much of it can be credited to their inherent lack of size, but being in better control of the basketball would help to heal the 21 turnover performance this afternoon.

Positive Notes

Amir Garrett continues to develop. Only about a month into his St. John’s career, the 6-6 swingman is doing what he can.

On a big play at the end of overtime, he stole an inbound pass and laid it up for two points, bringing the Red Storm to within one.

“He’s a joy to coach. He’s got a very strong voice. But it may take him a month to be completely comfortable. His knowledge of our playbook is limited.”

D’Angelo Harrison is the star. His statline continues to bear resemblance to those we saw from Dwight Hardy last season: 28 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-7 from distance.

Villanova head coach Jay Wright had nothing but praise for Harrison, calling him the best freshman in the Big East, this side of Connecticut’s Andre Drummond.

Nurideen Lindsey Transfers to Arkansas

This post also appears on NBCSports.com’s Beyond the Arc blog.

After an abrupt announcement to leave St. John’s back in early December, Nurideen Lindsey has announced, via Twitter, that he will transfer to Arkansas and play for head coach Mike Anderson.

“One [reason I chose St. John’s] was to be close to my mom, whose health has been up and down due to some past experiences,” said Lindsey of his original commitment to the Red Storm. “The second was to play for Coach [Steve] Lavin. In both instances it has not worked out how I envisioned.”

Lavin, who continues to work back from prostate cancer surgery in the fall, has only coached in a handful of games for the Red Storm this season.

Lindsey tells CBSSports.com’s Jeff Goodman that the original transfer plans did not work out.

“The whole idea of staying close to home was definitely more ideal,” Lindsey told CBSSports.com. “But unfortunately, the schools close to home weren’t a fit and most didn’t have scholarships.”

He cites Temple and St. Joseph’s as schools that had been of interest.

Lindsey is no stranger to that area of the country, having spent a season at Redlands Community College in Oklahoma, prior to joining St. John’s. He averaged 22 points per game in one season at Redlands.

When he joins the team, the Razorbacks are getting a ballhandler with a quick first step and impressive body control around the rim.

Problems arose for Lindsey this season against teams with length and athleticism, including Kentucky and Detroit, games in which he went a combined 2-of-9 from the floor, for four points and 11 turnovers. His inability to step out and work in the midrange became more apparent in assistant coach Mike Dunlap’s half-court system.

And, for just that reason, Lindsey fits well at Arkansas.

He will be part of a youthful backcourt that includes freshman BJ Young, who is averaging nearly 15 points per game, Rashad Madden, Rickey Scott, and Mardracus Wade.

Mike Anderson runs a deep bench, with nine players playing in every game and all nine averaging 15+ minutes per game. They run the floor and attack in transition, which is where Lindsey operates best.

As per NCAA rules, he will sit out this semester and the first of the 2012-13 season, giving him 1 ½ years of eligibility at Arkansas.

Texas A&M Transfer Jamal Branch Chooses St. John’s

Some time had passed since a big recruiting breakthrough came for the Red Storm, but welcome news came on Monday night.

Roger Rubin of the New York Daily News first reported, and Branch later confirmed on Twitter, that the Class of 2011 guard would be headed to St. John’s.

Branch averaged just over four points, two rebounds, and two assists in 18 minutes per game as a freshman for Texas A&M this season under head coach Billy Kennedy.

The 6-3 guard is an interesting case because he committed to play for the Aggies when Mark Turgeon was at the helm back in late 2007. Branch maintained his commitment to Texas A&M, even after Turgeon left for Maryland and Billy Kennedy took over the team.

This time around, Maryland, because of the obvious prior relationship between Turgeon and Branch, was the other school Branch was considering, before ultimately choosing St. John’s.

Branch was a top 75 prospect, coming out of the highly-regarded Grace Prep (TX), making for a possible All-Texas backcourt for the Red Storm, when paired with freshman D’Angelo Harrison.

Jerome Branch, Jamal’s father, told Scout.com’s Evan Daniels that Harrison’s presence had an influence on the decision.

“[St. John’s] has a serious need for him. D’Angelo [Harrison] being around helped. It’s a good fit for him,” said the elder Branch.

Branch is said to be an athletic defender and natural scorer, with a knack for distributing the basketball, as well.

With the transfer of Nurideen Lindsey back in December, St. John’s had a vacancy at the point guard position.

In compliance with NCAA transfer rules, Branch would be eligible to play for St. John’s after the first semester of the 2012-13 school year, very similar in timing as to when Amir Garrett joined the team, this season.