This was supposed to be something of an unofficial reintroduction for fans. Back home for the first time this season, St. John's Basketball, refocused and re-energized, was to be coming in fresh off a win over top-25 Wisconsin. A welcome from the hometown crowd and a welcome back to the national stage.
Instead, the Johnnies are lamenting a 86-75 loss to the Badgers in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. There's a lot of what could have been wafting through Queens. But the Red Storm has to stop looking back and not look past opponent number two in 2013-14: Wagner.
Tip for the Red Storm and the Seahawks in Carnesecca Arena is set for 6 p.m. (Fox Sports 2).
It should be a perfect way to put the Wisconsin game in the rear view mirror, as Wagner seems like one of those tasty cupcakes power conference teams like to fatten up on before getting to the meat of the schedule. It's a little like dessert before dinner, but in this case, it's socially acceptable to break the college basketball dining rules.
So long as you don't choke on said cupcake. And this non-power conference opponent is actually expected to win its own conference, the NEC. Not exactly the Big East or ACC, but still, the Seahawks are thinking about reservations for March. While the Red Storm should be able to win comfortably enough, Wagner (1-1), at least on paper, may be built to give them fits.
- Where: Carnesecca Arena
- Time: 6:00 p.m.
Television: Fox Sports 2
The Seahawks managed to stay competitive at Penn State, losing 74-62, and they do have that experienced roster. In fact, against those Nittany Lions, four seniors accounted for 45 of the team's 62 points. Seniors who led the Seahawks to 19 wins last year. Thus the reason Wagner is a preseason NEC favorite.
Of those experienced Seahawks, the Red Storm will have to focus on the back court combo of Kenneth Ortiz (20 points per game) and Latif Rivers (12 points per game). Sharpshooters they are not,but both Ortiz and Rivers can get to the rim and have the ability to knock down mid-range jumpers. (Fun Fact: Wagner is 12-3 when Rivers scores 20 or more points.) Which will put the defense of the Red Storm, specifically freshman guard Rysheed Jordan and D'Angelo Harrison, into focus. The Badgers were able to hit open shots last week, especially from distance, and if the Seahawks guards start getting buckets, this cupcake may give the Johnnies a little heartburn.
Still, for all of its positives, Wagner has major flaws. That is to say Wagner is dreadful shooting threes. For the season, the Seahawks have made just 5-of-35 three-point attempts. So, for head coach Steve Lavin, this may be a perfect time to experiment a little on defense, switching in some zone to go along with man-to-man. Force Wagner to make deep shots. Because Wagner butters its bread, or puts the icing on itself, keeping with this tasty treats theme, in the paint.
Last game, a win over something called Chestnut Hill, the Seahawks tallied 44 points in the lane. Junior forward Mario Moody, apparently a six foot-seven ballhawk, is averaging 11 boards through the first two games of the season. Plus, center Naofall Folahan grabbed 15 rebounds last game out (against Chestnut Hill, but still..,).
So clearly Jakarr Sampson, who finished with 21 points and seven boards in the loss against Wisconsin, and Chris Obekpa should be ready to battle in the paint on both ends of the floor. This game may have the feel of a rock fight.
That means, even if it turns out to be a little closer than expected, even if Wagner puts up a good fight, St. John's needs to win this game. If only to keep that return to the national stage in sight.