It used to be Lou Carnesecca and his...interesting sweaters swaying on the sidelines in Queens for the St. John's Red Storm. The legendary coach was as famous for leading the Johnnies to victory as he was famous, or maybe notorious, for wearing some questionable cardigans.
But Carnesecca retired years ago, sending the program into something of a perpetual limbo. Even now, as the Hall of Fame coach is still a fixture at St. John's games -- he serves as a fitting reminder of what used to be and at the same time what it could be. And to pay respect to all things Carnesecca and St. John's men's basketball, the school is hosting its fourth annual Ugly Holiday Sweater Day and Toy Drive.
Oh yeah, the Red Storm (7-3) will also be hosting the Youngstown State Penguins, too. But the game on the court will most likely fail to compare to the sweater game going on off the court. A beautifully ugly tribute, or an ugly beautiful tribute depending on how you look at it, I suppose.
Much like San Francisco Wednesday night, Youngstown State (8-5) will be at a distinct size disadvantage against the Johnnies today. Jerry Slocum's team deploys only one player taller than six-foot-seven, and as a result it ranks 198 in total rebounding. It's six-foot-ten forward Bobby Hain who leads the way in the paint for the Penguins, as the sophomore averages 6.8 rebounds per game (10 ppg).
Now unlike those Dons, Youngstown State does have some shooters. Collectively, the Penguins, of the Horizon League, shoot 46 percent from the field, and an eye-popping 68 percent from at or near the rim. That's 8 percent higher than the national average - and something Red Storm big men Chris Obekpa and JaKarr Sampson should be very well aware of: the Penguins don't miss from point-blank range.
And it just so happens that Obekpa and Sampson are coming off monster games -- Obekpa with 4 blocks and 7 rebounds and Samspon with 18 points against San Francisco.
Still, Youngstown State is built for the jumper. In fact, the Penguins can avoid the paint altogether by continuing to hit a 40 percent clip on jump shots. Leading scorer, and the as-he-goes-so-goes-Youngstown play maker, Kendrick Perry leads the way, shooting 51.4 percent on jump shots inside the arc. The six-foot senior guard is averaging 21.2 points per game, and is fresh off of shooting 4 of 7 from distance in a win over Bethune-Cookman.
The suddenly tenacious defense of Lavin's crew, a mixture of zone, man-to-man and full-court pressure will have to get up on the Penguins guards, rotating to the open man to avoid uncontested shots. Perry has to be the classic Marked Man, but most of these Penguins can hit open shots, meaning the Johnnies will have to work hard to limit those looks.
Of course, the Red Storm guards, D'Angelo Harrison and the suddenly comfortable-looking Rysheed Jordan, will also have to provide their punch, too. But that's kind of to be expected, really. Partly because Harrison always seems to get buckets, in one form or another. And partially due to Jordan's improved play makes him look more like the highly touted recruit he was before coming to Queens.
But it should be expected that the bigs underneath and the guards on the wing will step up against the Penguins. There's a reason Youngstown State has been blown out by the likes of UMass and Pittsburgh. And have losses against Kent State and Austin Peay. This is another very winnable game, assuming the Red Storm aren't already in Christmas Mode.
But with the old coach will be in the gym like always, and with hundreds, maybe even thousands, paying tribute in the stands donning ugly holiday sweaters, there's little doubt the team would follow suit with its play on the court. No, the Johnnies won't be wearing funky threads, they'll be chasing another win for St. John's -- the real measure of Carnesecca's lasting impression.