Despite losing four of their last five games, Seton Hall (13-6, 3-4) is still in solid shape if they take care of business over the next week and a half starting with a home test against basement team St. John’s (7-13, 0-7) on Wednesday night at Prudential Center.
18-point favorites over their Big East rivals, the Hall has slogged through a tough stretch of games – four ranked teams in five games – in which they’ve played well outside of the Creighton loss at home, picking up a top-50 win along the way when they won at the Dunk. With greener pastures ahead, Kevin Willard’s team can’t lose focus and must bring their A-game against the Johnnies and then Creighton and Marquette; 2-1 is the bare minimum outcome with a road game at Creighton being the biggest test.
In order to gain some momentum, a struggling St. John’s team that the Hall has only beaten once since 2012 will need to be dealt with first.
Chris Mullin’s young team is battling, but they’re winless on the road (0-4) this season and haven’t won a game in over a month since they upset Syracuse in mid-December, a 10-game span that features losses to Incarnate Word and NJIT. St. John’s best recent outcome was probably their 74-66 loss to Xavier that came down to the final possessions at Carnesecca Arena. This is clearly a program that has long-term rebuilding in mind rather than 2015-16.
Bereft of experienced talent that left alongside Steve Lavin in the off-season, Italian freshman guard Federico Musssini (12.8 ppg, 2.6 apg) leads St. John’s in scoring and is their top three-point shooter (41-127, 32%) while seniors Durand Johnson (11.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and Felix Balamou (8.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg) add length plus experience on the wings and will match up with Derrick Gordon or Ish Sanogo.
For the first time in several games, Seton Hall should have the clear advantage in the paint after getting shredded by Xavier’s front line on Saturday. Chris Obekpa transferred from St. John’s in the off-season leaving a combination of European sophomore Amar Alibegovic (5.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg), freshman Kassoum Yakwe (5.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and Christian Jones (7.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg) to man the paint. Spanish freshman Yankuba Sima (8.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg) is out 4-6 weeks with a fractured hand he suffered against Xavier.
The Red Storm are the worst offensive team in the Big East (315th in efficiency) and struggle mightily across the board in offensive statistical categories, though they do rank first in the country in block percentage. One would think that replacing a resident rim guarder like Obekpa would be challenging, but 6-11 Yankuba Sima swats over 3 per game and has done well defensively; Kassoum Yakwe registers just under 3 per game too and has tallied 20 in the four games since Sima was sidelined.
Seton Hall will likely look to up the tempo against a St. John’s team that hasn’t scored more than 75 points since their win over Syracuse and should try to get into the lane and draw fouls or score in the paint, something that has been the team’s bread and butter so far this season. Willard’s guards should also be keen on getting Angel Delgado and Mike Nzei the ball down low in the paint in order to initiate the battle on the block; Delgado can’t afford to pick up two early fouls again.
This is a lose-lose game for Seton Hall unless they win by a Rutgers-like margin. They’ve got to win for obvious reasons, most importantly because St. John’s is 211th in RPI (ouch). Lose and it’s a bad loss. Win by anything less than 15-20 and fans will note how weak St. John’s is and chalk the game up as “expected.”
Bottom line: Seton Hall needs as many games out of their next three as possible and this is by far their easiest chance to add to the win column.
KenPom says: No. 42 Seton Hall 81, No. 251 St. John’s 62 (95%)
Last 10 meetings (Seton Hall 5-5; all-time 27-35)
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.
Feb. 22, 2009, St. John’s 70, SETON HALL 65, Queens, N.Y.
Feb. 5, 2009, SETON HALL 91, St. John’s 81, Newark, N.J.
Projected St. John’s starters:
Felix Balamou (7.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
Federico Mussini (13.2 ppg, 2.7 apg)
Ron Mvouika (8.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
Amar Alibegovic (5.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg)
Kassoum Yakwe (5.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.7 bpg)
Projected Seton Hall starters:
Isaiah Whitehead (15.5 ppg, 4.5 apg)
Khadeen Carrington (14.9 ppg, 2.4 apg)
Desi Rodriguez (12.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
Ismael Sanogo (4.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg)
Angel Delgado (9.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg)
When: 7pm, Wednesday
TV: FOX Sports 1
Radio: AM970 (Gary Cohen & Dave Popkin)
Opening line: Seton Hall -18