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College Basketball Preview: St. John’s vs. Louisville

St. John’s Red Storm @ (19)Louisville Cardinals
KFC Yum! Center – Louisville, KY
Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011
Time: 7:00 pm EST
TV: BIG EAST Network (WHAS-TV in Louisville, Ch. 11) Mike Gleason, play-by-play; Bob Valvano, analyst.
Radio: WKRD (790 AM, 101.7 FM) (joined in progess on WHAS, 840 AM) Paul Rogers, play-by-play; Doug Ormay, analyst. (also SIRIUS ch. 155)
Series History: UofL leads 8-4 (5-0 in Louisville, 2-2 in New York, 1-2 neutral)
Officials: Ed Corbett, Gene Saratore, John Gaffne

The resurgent St. John’s program will visit the Derby City on Wednesday night to take on the Louisville Cardinals. Steve Lavin is in his first year coaching the Johnnies and has a senior-laden team that is trying to put a once feared program back on the map. The Red Storm haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2002, an appearance that has since been vacated by the NCAA, and made it to the Sweet Sixteen just once (1999) in the last 20 years. The Red Storm are currently ranked 13th in the RPI.

Louisville responded to Rick Pitino’s challenge to ‘be tougher’ by out-rebounding Marquette 38-36 and even out-scoring them 30-28 in the paint. However, one area that continues to plague the Cardinals is the free throw line. The Golden Eagles once again, as has been the case on numerous occasions this season, made more free throws than Louisville even attempted (28-21) and outscored the Cards from the line 28-12.

The Red Storm are coming off a big win of their own, avenging a 76-61 January 8th loss at Notre Dame with a 72-54 victory over that same Fighting Irish squad on Sunday. They did it with a smothering full court press and half-court defense.

Despite having a first-year head coach in Lavin, St. John’s roster features ten, yes TEN seniors, two juniors, two sophomores and two freshmen. To say this team is experienced would be an understatement. Their experience is showing in their results and at 11-5 and 4-2 in the toughest conference in the nation, the Johnnies continue to inch closer to seeing their name in the polls (currently 36th in the AP with 27 points). The last time STJ was ranked in the AP Top 25 was over 10 years ago, on Nov. 28, 2000, at No. 24.

This year’s version of the Red Storm were actually selected by the coaches to finish above the Cardinals in the pre-season polls. St. John’s got one vote to win the conference and were picked to finish sixth, Louisville eighth.

The Red Storm are led in scoring by New York City playground legend Dwight Hardy, who pours in 15.7 points per game. Hardy is a multi-dimensional athlete with the ability to get into the paint and draw contact. When he goes to the charity stripe his .913 free throw percentage (73-of-80) is currently second in the league, and tied for 11th nationally. He is also second on the team in assists (2.4apg) and leads the Johnnies in steals (1.5spg).

Justin Brownlee, a 6′ 7″ senior forward was the Lou Carnesecca Holiday Festival MVP and Great Alaska Shootout MOP earlier this season, and hasn’t looked back. He is second on the team in both scoring (14.2 points per game) and rebounding (4.9 boards a contest) and leads the Johnnies with 1.2 blocks a game.

D.J. Kennedy is the team’s third leading scorer and the only other Johnnie who averages double digit points a game at 11.2. He leads St. John’s in rebounding, pulling down 6.0 boards per outing. Last year he led the Red Storm in scoring (15.1), rebounding (6.1), assists (3.1), steals (1.2), free throw percentage (.756), 3-point field goal percentage (.383) and minutes played (31.4 per game). He was named a Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team member, marking the first Red Storm player to be selected to a preseason all-conference team since Daryll Hill in 2005-06. At his current pace he will end his career as one of the Top 10 all-time scorers in St. John’s history, a list that includes legends Chris Mullin (first, 2,440), Malik Sealy (second, 2,402), Felipe Lopez (third, 1,927) and Tony Jackson (ninth, 1,603). 

Paris Horne recently became the 46th member of the 1,000 point club at St. John’s, and barring injury or a cold streak of epic proportions, will leave as the program’s all-time leader in career 3-point field goals made. With 132 career 3-point field goals made, including the game-winner at Providence (Jan. 1), Horne is currently third all-time, only 19 treys short of moving into first place.

St. John’s lone freshman who sees playing time is Dwayne Polee II, the 2010 Los Angeles City Section and MaxPreps State of California High School Player of the Year. Polee II has made an immediate impact in the first 16 games, the athletic 6′ 7″ forward with the 40-inch vertical has averaged ???????.

The Johnnies have experience and talent, but will need to overcome a hyped up Louisville squad at home and coming off a highly emotional comeback victory. While the Cardinals could fall victim to a let down following such an emotional high, I’m going with last year’s loss in Madison Square Garden as motivation enough to keep Louisville focused.

And with this Cardinal team playing like they are, ranking among the top 15 nationally in steals (10.0, 4th), assists (18.2, 5th), average three-point goals (9.4, 9th), blocked shots (6.1, 10th) and scoring offense (80.7, 13th), St. John’s will not have enough firepower to keep up.

Louisville 81, St. John’s 71


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