Date: Wednesday, March 3
Time: 7 p.m.
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: St. John’s -1.5
Moneyline: St. John’s -124 | Providence +106
Both the Friars and Red Storm are on the outside looking in as the regular season comes to a close. An at-large NCAA tournament berth for either school is not outside the realm of possibility, but such a berth would be highly unlikely. For the winner of Wednesday night’s battle, that glimmer of hope will remain. The loser won’t be so lucky.
Providence and St. John’s first met this season at Alumni Hall on February 6. The Red Storm started the game red hot, hitting 12 of their first 14 from the field. 7 of those made field goals were from deep. Providence came back to overcome a 17-point deficit and regain the lead in the second half, but St. John’s answered quickly and decisively. The win marked the sixth in a row for Mike Anderson, a streak that also included wins over Villanova and UConn. It was the third loss in a row for PC.
Since that game, the two teams have reversed fates. Providence has won three of four, capped by a dominant win last Wednesday over Xavier. The Friars have played better basketball over the past few weeks, thanks in part to the return of Jared Bynum. Back from a groin injury, Bynum scored 10 points in 22 minutes of play last time out against Xavier. His impact has been felt beyond the scoresheet as well. Bynum’s presence frees up his teammates on the floor. David Duke had perhaps his most complete performance of the season last game, coming an assist and a rebound away from a triple-double.
Of course, one can’t talk about the improvements for the Friars without mentioning Noah Horchler. The North Florida transfer scored 20 points against Xavier, punctuated by two powerful dunks. Since being reinserted into the starting lineup, Horchler has averaged 12.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. His presence on the boards and from beyond the arc has opened up Providence’s offense, and his improvements at the other end of the floor have helped bolster a struggling defense.
Coach Ed Cooley credits the team’s mentality for the turnaround. “I think it’s important for our guys to sit and process things. We talked about what meditation does to soothe the mind.” With time off before facing Xavier, the Friars had time to relax and refocus. They were able to approach the game with less stress and more joy. Providence had another week off before facing St. John’s, so they’ll be hoping the rest helps yet again.
For Mike Anderson, the last four games have seen the team’s hot streak turn cold in a hurry. The Red Storm have lost three of their last four, and the defense appears to be in disarray. Despite forcing 22 turnovers against DePaul, they still surrendered 88 points. The unit now ranks as the 2nd worst in the conference and outside the top 100 nationally.
Opponents have found easy looks against the Red Storm once they break the press. 38 of DePaul’s 46 shots came from inside the arc, and they hit more than 65 percent of them. The Red Storm are still forcing turnovers, but it’s no longer wreaking the havoc it once did on opposing offenses. With more than a week to prepare for Providence, Mike Anderson has more than enough time to make adjustments. Last season, that defense caused problems for the Friars when the teams met at Carnesecca Arena. Providence turned the ball over 20 times in the 80-69 St. John’s victory.
For St. John’s to finish a sweep of the Friars, it will take Julian Champagnie and Posh Alexander stepping up yet again. Alexander scored a career-high 21 points in the first meeting, and his aggressiveness sets the tone for the defense. Champagnie, the Big East’s leading scorer, had 24 points and 10 rebounds for the double-double. Rasheem Dunn also had a double-double with 13 points and 10 assists.
Providence will need another stand-out performance from Nate Watson. The senior center scored 30 when these two met the first time. Defensively, the Friars will have to tighten up. St. John’s scoring 92 points again will make a PC victory almost impossible.
Both of these teams enter Wednesday night well rested and highly motivated.