Game Preview: St. Johns vs. Penn Sate

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

St. John's takes a step up in competition, taking on Penn State in the "semifinals" of the Barclays Center Classic.

One team is from New York, the other from Pennsylvania. One team wearing blue, the other draped (mostly) in red. There will be a lion roaming one sideline, a confusing looking weird bird-like-thing on the other. Just some of the major aesthetic differences between the St. John's Red Storm and the Penn State Nittany Lion.

But when the two opposites hit the court in Brooklyn tonight in the Barclays Center Classic, the players may think they're looking into a mirror.

Game Details:
Barclays Center Classic

  • When: Tonight
  • Where:Barclays Center
  • Time: 7 p.m.
  • Television: NBC Sports Network

Think about it, Penn State (5-1) is led by an all-world talent who missed last season and is still trying to reestablish his dominate ways. Fifth year senior Tim Frazier missed 2012-13 due to a torn ACL, but the Big 10 Player of the Year candidate is once again putting up big numbers, 18.3 points per game and 4.3 rebounds per, while shooting better than 54 percent from the field. As Frazier goes so too goes Penn State.

Which is a familiar theme for the Johnnies, who have relied on D'Angelo Harrison to be the center of attention. And while Harrison's absence last year was by in large part his own doing (suspended for violating team rules), unlike Frazier's missed time due to injury, this season the junior has acted like a man with a new lease on basketball life. Harrison is leading the team in scoring and is the unofficial leader in smiles per game. The kid with the knack to get to the rim is finally allowing the game to come to him, while at the same time enjoying himself and his teammates.

But it's not just Harrison, luckily enough for Lavin, St. John's (4-1) does have other viable options. Jakarr Sampson has been a beast on the inside, averaging better than eight boards a game, and Phil Greene IV has actually led the Red Storm in scoring twice already this season. Throw in one of the nation's best shot-blockers in Chris Obekpa, who is averaging an incredible 5.4 swats per game, and St. John's is certainly more than just Harrison.

Which is another quality Penn State can relate to. Junior guard D.J. Newbill is scoring 18 points per game and pulling down an impressive 7.2 boards. Why is seven rebounds a game impressive? Because Newbill is LISTED at 6-foot-4, meaning he's probably closer to 6-foot-3 or even smaller. Newbill has a knack for getting the ball.

And it's not just the combo of Frazier and Newbill for the Nittany Lions. Taylor Brandon, just a sophomore, is good for 13 points an outing. Plus, senior guard Allen Roberts is shooting 44 percent from distance, a significant threat to the Red Storm 2-3 zone. The entire Nittany Lions team is averaging better than 38 percent shooting the three. Which there in probably lies the biggest difference between the two teams, and, at the same time, probably the biggest key to tonight's game.

The Johnnies can't hit the broadside of a Brooklyn skyscraper -- shooting an anemic 22 percent from three-land. Seriously, I'm no expert, but making just 17 of 78 attempts probably means two things for Lavin: 1) His team shouldn't even bother taking an attempt from three and 2) Any and all opponents should try some form of zone and force Harrison (23 percent) or Greene (33 percent) to try and beat them from deep.

The Red Storm will have to stop the Lions' shooters; the Lions will have to make the Johnnies take jumpers. The biggest difference will decide which team wins. And really, while this game may be billed as Frazier vs. Harrison, it's really going to be up to their talented supporting casts to decide the outcome of this one. The winner advances to play in Saturday's championship game, the loser will face the loser of Ole Miss vs. Georgia Tech.

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