For the second straight season, the Providence Friars and St. John’s Red Storm end their regular seasons where there postseasons begin: at Madison Square Garden. Just as the case was last season, much more is at stake for the Friars, who have an outside chance at third place in the Big East standings, a shot at a fourth straight winning record in conference, and can ill afford to suffer another questionable loss in the eyes of the selection committee.
While Providence can finish anywhere from third to sixth, St. John’s knows their fate; locked into the eight spot and due for a first round matchup with Georgetown, the Johnnies will take on the role of spoiler on a day where their lone senior, forward Darien Williams, will be honored.
Here’s what to watch for when the two sides clash on Saturday afternoon:
How to Watch, Listen, Stream
Time/TV: Noon EST, Fox Sports 2 (Alex Faust will do play-by-play, Tarik Turner handles the color commentary)
Radio: 103.7 FM WEEI in Providence, 970 AM WNYM in New York
Stream: Fox Sports Go (where available)
St. John’s opens, per OddsShark, as a 1-point favorite. The Friars have matched their actual record at 19-11 against the spread, while St. John’s comes in 15-15 against the spread.
St. John’s leads the all-time series 61-48, including a 33-16 advantage as the home team. They snapped a three-game losing streak to Providence in January, when they knocked the Friars off 91-86 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
How Providence Wins
Offensively, the Friars don’t need to change much from the last five games. All games have showcased, at least for stretches throughout each game, the Providence offense at its best: a slashing Kyron Cartwright, Rodney Bullock and Emmitt Holt scoring both inside and out, and on-the-spot contributions from Jalen Lindsey, Isaiah Jackson, and Alpha Diallo.
Where Providence will make or break the game is on defense. Last matchup, St. John’s ran wild on them; it felt, at times, like Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds got whatever they wanted. Since then, Lindsey and Jackson have emerged as the Friars’ two best wing defenders, and they’ll help Cartwright and Malik White confront one of their more daunting tasks stopping LoVett, Ponds, and Malik Ellison. Slowing down the perimeter and making the Johnnies one dimensional should be at the top of Ed Cooley’s wish list.
Almost as important is how well Bullock, Holt, and Kalif Young will hold up inside against some of St. John’s bigger players. The Red Storm are undersized in their starting lineup, as they will likely trot out 6’7” Kassoum Yakwe as their tallest player. Yakwe, however, makes his bones as Holt does, as an undersized but physical forward; keeping Holt out of foul trouble and on Yakwe’s hip is crucial. When 6’11” Tariq Owens comes off the bench, it will take a group effort to keep him from taking over the game.
How St. John’s Wins
Offensively, run through LoVett and Ponds. As mentioned, they got what they wanted in the first matchup, and their ability to score from all parts of the court can flip the game in their favor. The Friars run thin up front as well; if the Johnnies can attack the basket and get Holt and Bullock in foul trouble, they’ll pressure the Friars into playing even smaller than they’ve come accustomed to.
Defensively, St. John’s needs to focus on slowing the Friars down. Cartwright has proven to be special in the open court, with an ability to set himself and his teammates up for easy buckets. If there’s an alpha dog of the Friars offense, it’s Cartwright more than Bullock. Additionally, taking advantage of Cartwright’s rest will be key; when he’s out, St. John’s has to pressure White and force him into making mistakes that his superior wouldn’t.
Defending the three point line will prove to be crucial as well. If Chris Mullin can run Lindsey and Jackson, both 40-plus percent three-point shooters, off the line, it will force Cooley to turn to the much more inconsistent Bullock and Holt on the interior.