St. John’s Opens 2012 By Hosting Louisville At Madison Square Garden

The calendar has turned and for those associated with St. John’s basketball, the hope is that so too will the team’s fortunes following an 83-69 defeat at the hands of reigning national champion Connecticut to close out 2011.

Now that the team has returned home after the trip to Hartford, they prepare for another ranked team in the Louisville Cardinals. This game will be the third contest for the Red Storm in Big East play in addition to the 2012 opener for both sides, and a little more information about each team follows this introduction.

Date: Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Location: Madison Square Garden; New York, New York
Time: 7:00 PM EST
TV: ESPNU (Adam Amin, Bill Raftery)
Radio: WBBR 1130 AM (John Minko, Tim O’Toole)
Online: (TBD)

St. John’s Red Storm (7-6, 1-1)
Head Coach:
Steve Lavin* (2nd season at STJ, 28-18; 173-96 overall)
*- Assistant coach Mike Dunlap will serve as interim coach while Lavin recovers from offseason prostate cancer surgery

Projected Starting Lineup:
G Phil Greene
(6-2 Fr., 6.6 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 34% FG, 73% FT, 2.1 APG, 1.2 SPG)
G D’Angelo Harrison (6-3 Fr., 15.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 37% FG, 32% 3pt, 82% FT, 2.0 APG, 1.7 SPG)
F Sir’Dominic Pointer (6-5 Fr., 7.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 50% FG, 31% 3pt, 46% FT, 1.2 APG, 1.2 SPG)
F God’sgift Achiuwa (6-8 Jr., 12.3 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 54% FG, 74% FT, 1.2 BPG)
F Moe Harkless (6-8 Fr., 15.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 46% FG, 66% FT, 1.7 APG, 1.6 BPG, 1.8 SPG)

Key Reserves:
G Malik Stith
(5-11 Jr., 3.2 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 42% FG, 38% 3pt, 67% FT, 1.2 APG)
F Amir Garrett (6-6 Fr., 1.7 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 40% FG, 50% FT, 1.0 APG)

Keys To Victory:
– Control the pace.
Louisville is notorious for being able to dictate the tempo, so the Red storm have to be the aggressors Tuesday night in order to emerge victorious. In both of the last two meetings with the Cardinals at the Garden; St. John’s played on their terms, forcing Louisville to play defense in a loss in February 2009 and a convincing 19-point win in January 2010.

– Actions speak louder than words. Moe Harkless admitted that he “didn’t take over the game as well as he should have” following the loss to UConn. The confident freshman forward should have more opportunities to do just that against a smaller Louisville lineup, but faces stiff competition inside against center Gorgui Dieng.

– Focus and finish. St. John’s proved that no lead is safe when they trimmed a 23-point UConn lead down to eleven late in the second half, and Mike Dunlap has been pleased with the incremental progress his unit has made since their loss to Kentucky last month. Even though Louisville is offensively proficient; the Red Storm are handling pressure situations much better than anyone expected at this point, which will keep them in the game if Louisville cannot close the door early in the second half.

Leading the charge for the opposition is a homegrown coach who returns to his hometown on the heels of a two-game losing streak.

No. 10 Louisville Cardinals (12-2, 0-1)
Head Coach:
Rick Pitino (11th season at UL, 257-98; 611-226 overall)

Projected Starting Lineup:
G Peyton Siva
(6-0 Jr., 9.4 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 33% FG, 80% FT, 6.2 APG, 2.0 SPG)
G Chris Smith (6-2 Sr., 9.7 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 40% FG, 39% 3pt, 75% FT, 2.7 APG, 1.2 SPG)
F Kyle Kuric (6-4 Jr., 12.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 49% FG, 34% 3pt, 74% FT, 1.1 APG, 1.6 SPG)
F Chane Behanan (6-6 Fr., 8.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 43% FG, 60% FT)
C Gorgui Dieng (6-11 So., 10.1 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 56% FG, 64% FT, 1.3 APG, 3.1 BPG)

Key Reserves:
G Russ Smith
(6-0 So., 12.3 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 39% FG, 37% 3pt, 74% FT, 1.8 APG, 2.5 SPG)
F Jared Swopshire (6-8 Jr., 4.6 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 41% FG, 67% FT)

Keys To Victory:
– Right the ship.
Regardless of who a program like Louisville plays, a two-game losing streak is cause for concern. St. John’s comes in off a battle against UConn where the Red Storm gained valuable experience in handling late-game deficits, and Louisville has had to play catch-up in much the same way their opponents Tuesday night attempted to against the reigning national champion Huskies. Expect Louisville to establish themselves early on as the stronger and more efficient team.

– Hey, you never know. After hard-fought losses to Georgetown and Kentucky; St. John’s is a game that the Cardinals and their fan base expect to win, but it is also a potential trap game. The Cardinals are looking to avenge an upset at the hands of the Johnnies in their most recent regular season trip to Madison Square Garden, which came in January of 2010 when the Norm Roberts-led Red Storm knocked off Louisville by the final of 74-55.

– Pound it inside. Combined, the duo of freshman Chane Behanan and sophomore Gorgui Dieng average over 18 points and 17 rebounds per game. Dieng in particular has been most impressive to watch after a shaky rookie campaign last season. The Senegalese import needs eight points and fifteen rebounds to average a double-double for the season; and might be able to attain the latter against God’sgift Achiuwa and Moe Harkless, who have not always been effective in beating their matchups to the paint.

So, Who Wins?
It has to get worse before it can get better. For St. John’s, the worst may have come in the aforementioned Kentucky game that the coaching staff now regards in much the same way they did with Fordham last year as a turning point for the season. In the Louisville camp, the potential to turn into a team on the decline is at its highest. A similar situation occurred in 2008-09 when a far more talented Notre Dame team came into the Garden ranked seventh in the country and lost to St. John’s for what would start a seven-game losing streak that ultimately cost the Fighting Irish an NCAA Tournament bid. Louisville has the right players and coach to avoid that misfortune. St. John’s will give the Cardinals all they can handle early, but the physicality and shooting of the Cardinals wins out as the night wears on.

Final Score: Louisville 73, St. John’s 62


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