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Game Preview: St. John's vs. Fordham

After a week off, the Red Storm return to action and return to the World's Most Famous Arena.

Andrew Burton

It's considered, by some people anyway, to be the Mecca of the sporting world. Quite possibly, if you listen to the bellowing before events there, the world's most famous arena. But most importantly for the St. John's Red Storm, Madison Square Garden is home for nine games this season -- with game one coming Saturday against the Fordham Rams.

Sure, the Red Storm (5-2) play the majority of their games in nearby Queens, and they have twice hit the hardwood in Brooklyn. But there is something about the Garden. The Rams may not be old Big East rivals or a top ranked foe, but the setting alone will make for a proper college basketball atmosphere.

A bigger stage, however, means the Johnnies better fix their blemishes before their big close-up. And there is plenty of work to be done for a team yet to play a full forty minutes of complete basketball.

Game Details:
Madison Square Garden Holiday Festival

  • When: Saturday
  • Where:Madison Square Garden
  • Time: 1:30 p.m.
  • Television: MSG Network

A look into the numbers, courtesy of hoop-math, shines a light on to some mighty big warts for the Red Storm. None bigger than the their collective shooting woes. As a team, D-1 mind you, St. John's is shooting just over 29 percent from distance this season. And despite making only 32-of-110 3-point attempts, the Red Storm keep trying, and trying, and trying. It's easily one of the biggest confounding problems for Steve Lavin's group. Over a hundred attempts just seven games into the season for such a poor shooting squad?

Muddying the waters further is the fact that the Johnnies make their living in the paint. Leading scorer D'Angelo Harrison is making 66.7 percent of his shots at the rim. Yet 41 percent of the junior guard's shots are 3-pointers. Even with this newfangled math the kids are doing these days, I don't think these numbers add up. It's not just Harrison with questionable shooting selection, obviously. No, for a team shooting 65.4 percent at or near the rim, St. John's only takes 32.2 percent of its shots from that range -- six percent lower than the national average.

It's an epidemic, people. And probably one of the biggest reasons why the Red Storm faltered in their two biggest games this season -- loses to top-25 Wisconsin and Penn State. Even with the odd shooting pattern,however, a win over the Rams (4-2) should be expected at the Garden. As Fordham is a lesser team relying on inexperienced players in key roles. Not to say there is some "older" talent on the roster -- senior Branden Frazier leads the Rams in assists at 5.2 per game and is the second leading scorer at 18.8 points. Still, there are three underclassman in the starting lineup, including sophomore big man Ryan Rhoomes. Rhoomes leads Fordham with 7.7 rebound per game, followed closely by, surprisingly enough, guard and fellow soph Mandell Thomas (7.3).

St. John's will, once again, will enjoy a significant size advantage, Saturday. As Fordham uses just two players six-foot-eight or taller. Meaning both Jakarr Samspon and Chris Obekpa -- who, by the way, leads the nation in blocked shots (5.7) -- should be able to clean up in the paint. Possibly adding to the team's already blistering shooting at the rim.

Yet for all the newness on Fordham, freshman guard Jon Severe has actually become Tom Pecora's go-to-guy. So much so that Severe is averaging 23 points per game, a team high for Fordham, including a 30 point effort earlier this season. Severe's 42 percent 3-point shooting will surely test the Red Storm's zone defense, something that has been the bedrock through the first four weeks of the season.

With a mix of man-to-man and zone, along with some varying forms of pressure Lavin unveiled last week, the Johnnies have used their defense to stage furious comebacks, like they did in the win against Georgia Tech in the Barclays Center Classic consolation win. Opponents are shooting just 33.6 percent from three, and with Obekpa clogging the lane foes so far have seen an eye-popping 27.1 percent of their shots blocked. An amazing statistic if there ever was one.

Which leads to the question, given some of those defensive numbers: how did St. John's lose to the Badgers and Lions?

The answer may bring us full circle, really. For some reason St. John's routinely comes out flat after the opening tip. Just look at the Georgia Tech game for example. The Red Storm needed a 24-2 run to wrestle control of the game back from the Yellow Jackets. An effort needed because St. John's fell behind 19-4 in the opening minutes against Tech at the Barclays Center. A definitive trend for the Johnnies who have seen fairly significant first half deficits in three of their seven games this season.

But, as I'm sure someone says, with all the other metaphor-laced phrases surrounding it, there's something special about Madison Square Garden. Maybe Lavin's boys will stop taking so many long-range low-percentage shots. Maybe the Red Storm will start playing with a sense of urgency before they look up to see a big deficit on the scoreboard. A trip back to its home away from home could wake something that's been sleeping inside St. John's through November.

After all, this is the Mecca we're talking about.