St. John’s presents benchmark game for Seton Hall

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Close to a week removed from a narrow loss at Providence and a 30-point smear by Villanova, Seton Hall will have the chance to begin an upward trend against St. John’s.

Chris Mullin’s Red Storm have just snapped a losing streak of their own after downing DePaul by 10 on Monday to end a four-game skid that started after… they beat DePaul for the first time on New Year’s Day.

After starting 2-5, St. John’s (9-11, 3-4) has since shown progress and fight most notably when they slammed Syracuse by 33 and then beat Butler in their Big East opener a week later, though they did get blasted 83-55 by an inconsistent Georgetown team.

The Johnnies’ scoring power comes from a tandem of young guards (and former Seton Hall targets) in Shamorie Ponds (17 ppg, 5 rpg, 3.3 apg) and Marcus LoVett (16.4 ppg, 3.4 apg) who on paper have the upper hand against Khadeen Carrington & Co.; LoVett is shooting 14-of-32 (43.8%) from three in conference play. Federico Mussini (8.4 ppg) has slipped to the first guard off the bench role after seeing more time a season ago.

Up front, Tariq Owens (5.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.5 bpg — another SH target), Kassoume Yakwe (4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.5 bpg), and junior college transfer Bashir Ahmed (12.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg) do the heavy lifting in a rotation that only goes about eight-deep since the transfer of forward Yankuba Sima about two months ago. It started with Chris Obekpa, and now Owens has stepped in for Sima to maintain a healthy blocks per game average for the Red Storm.

While St. John’s is a game you chalk up as easier on paper, you can bet this bunch won’t just roll over on Sunday. Remember: the last meeting, which marked Seton Hall’s first regular season sweep of their cross-river rival since 2004-05 ended with a scrum after things we can only guess were said to Derrick Gordon.

Chris Mullin’s team plays at the 35th-quickest tempo and are pretty much middle of the pack in all other statistical areas except for their reliance on three-pointers — only 24 other schools score a higher percentage of points from beyond the arc; St. John’s has four guys who shoot over 38-percent from deep on the season.

For Seton Hall, there are countless areas to focus on Sunday, but a more in-sync offense with improved point guard play is at the top of the list. An improved intensity should come naturally with the Hall playing at home and against a local rival while non-point guard ball movement has also ebbed and flowed this season with no true consistency. 

Regardless, this is clearly a “show me” game for many Seton Hall fans. Perhaps justified, Kevin Willard has claimed he and his team need more time practicing in the bowels of Walsh Gym — they will have had five full days to rejuvenate, so not many excuses remain come noon Sunday. 

Last 10 meetings (SH 6-4; all-time 33-50):

Feb. 21, 2016, SETON HALL 72, St. John’s 71, New York, N.Y.
Jan. 27, 2016, SETON HALL 79, St. John’s 60, Newark, N.J.
Feb. 21, 2015, St. John’s 85, SETON HALL 72, Queens, N.Y.
Dec. 31, 2014, SETON HALL 78, St. John’s 67, Newark, N.J.
Feb. 13, 2014, St. John’s 68, SETON HALL 67, Newark, N.J.
Jan. 23, 2014, St. John’s 77, SETON HALL 76, Queens, N.Y.
Jan. 27, 2013, St. John’s 71, SETON HALL 67, New York, N.Y.
Feb. 14, 2012, SETON HALL 94, St. John’s 64, Newark, N.J.
March 3, 2011, SETON HALL 84, St. John’s 70, Newark, N.J.
Feb. 17, 2010, SETON HALL 59, St. John’s 50, Queens, N.Y..

Projected St. John’s starters
G – Shamorie Ponds
G – Marcus LoVett
G/F – Malik Ellison
F – Bashir Ahmed
F – Kassoume Yakwe

Projected Seton Hall starters
PG – Madison Jones
G – Khadeen Carrington
F – Desi Rodriguez
F – Ish Sanogo
F – Angel Delgado

When: Noon, Sunday
TV: FOX Sports 1
Radio: AM 970 (Gary Cohen & Dave Popkin), Sirius 84, XM 84
Opening line: TBD