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Pregame Party: St. John's at Georgetown

<em>"Yes, I found him in the cafeteria, but he's your teammate now."</em>
"Yes, I found him in the cafeteria, but he's your teammate now."

Your Georgetown Hoyas return home hoping for a bounce-back win on Sunday against St. John's, which looks for revenge for the Hoyas' 20-point win in Madison Square Garden. For Georgetown, this game is the first of five straight in which the Hoyas likely will be favored. A sweep of those games practically could assure Georgetown a top-four conference finish and a Big East Tournament double-bye, while a few losses could drop the Hoyas back into the pack, perhaps an echo of recent regular season-closing disappointments. While a late-season fade seems less likely this year than in years gone by (barring, knock on wood, an injury or illness), few Hoya fans would deny that the season still hangs very much in the balance. But Georgetown can win only one game on Sunday, so let's get you ready for it.

It's Been So Long Since Last We Met. The Red Storm's second season under Steve Lavin has been a bit tumultuous. Last year's seniors left, a player transferred, two incoming freshman were ineligible (as was a third who subsequently became eligible), open tryouts were held, an incoming transfer transferred back out, and now Malik Stith, the team's lone returning scholarship player, has left the team for personal reasons. All this while Lavin continues to battle prostate cancer. In a sport in which some fans are cheering for little more than laundry, change has been particularly swift and dramatic at St. John's.

Last month the Hoyas and Red Storm met at MSG. Georgetown got off to a slow start, committing a number of sloppy turnovers and hoisting several heat checks as St. John's built an early eight-point lead. But the Hoyas scored 12 straight, holding the Red Storm scoreless over the next six minutes. While the Hoyas never relinquished the lead, the Red Storm didn't go down without a fight, narrowing a double-digit lead to just three with six minutes to play. But then foul trouble and a short bench got the better of St. John's, and Georgetown closed on a 21-4 run that made the final margin the largest of the game. Hollis Thompson led the Hoyas with 20 points, largely on five three-pointers, while Otto Porter had a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Since that game, more ups and downs followed for St. John's. A double-digit defeat at South Florida was balanced by a surprising, similarly large win over West Virginia. Sometimes the twists and turns came in in the same game: St. John's built double-digit lead against Villanova, only to lose in overtime, then turned a Duke blowout into a backdoor cover. Signs that stiff competition or an extremely short bench are taking their toll arrived in the last week, when Syracuse and Cincinnati took turns laying 20-plus-point defeats on the Red Storm.

Red Storm to Know. Stith's departure from the team leaves St. John's with just six regulars, five of which are what's left of the Red Storm's heralded incoming freshman class. Two first years, guard D'Angelo Harrison (16.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.5 stl pg) and forward Moe Harkless (15.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.6 stl pg, 1.6 blk pg), continue to power the St. John's attack. Harrison is a slasher who also provides the Red Storm's lone deep threat, while Harkless crashes the boards and also steps out to hit mid-range jumpers. Up front, there's just one true post, juco transfer and First Team All-Name power forward God's Gift Achiuwa (9.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg), whose production has faded badly from 12.3 points and 7 rebounds before the new year to just 7.8 ppg and 4.9 rpg since the calendar turned. Freshman guard Phil Greene (7.7 ppg, 2.8 apg) runs the point, while two freshman wings, Sir'Dominic Pointer (6.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Amir Garrett (6.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg) supply athleticism, spot scoring and, perhaps most importantly for this team, warm bodies.

When St. John's Has the Ball.

  • Red Storm's strength: pushing the pace and getting to the line. By most statistical measures, the Red Storm's offense is woeful: they rank in the bottom three in the conference in offensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage, offensive rebounding percentage, and percentage of assisted baskets, all while falling below average in several more. But they aren't afraid to attack the rim, where they draw lots of fouls, leading to more than 26 free throw attempts per game. Many of these fouls are drawn in transition, as St. John's tries to force turnovers to generate easy transition points. Harrison is particularly effective getting the line, where he gets 6.6 attempts per game; Harkless and Achiuwa also take more than 4 foul shots per contest. In the teams' first game, the Hoyas sent the Red Storm to the line for 21 tries.
  • Hoyas' strength: zone. As might be expected from teammates that have played together for four months, the Red Storm haven't shown the patience or passing to effectively crack a zone. In the first match-up, they endured long scoreless stretches when Georgetown went zone. Since then, the Hoya zone has continued to improve, putting the clamps for long stretches on Connecticut, South Florida, and, to a lesser degree, Syracuse. Particularly if the Hoyas can bottle up Harrison, who shot just 1 of 12 in the first meeting, the 2-3 should continue to frustrate St. John's.
  • Player to watch. Harrison or Harkless, depending on your perspective. Harkless shook loose for 21 points and grabbed 10 boards, 6 offensive, during the game in MSG before fouling out. He's not exactly a perimeter threat, but still threatens the zone with his length and activity. Harrison, as mentioned above, struggled throughout the first game but is unlikely to do so again, and could get hot enough from deep to give the Hoyas problems.

When Georgetown Has the Ball.

  • Hoyas' strength: offensive rebounding. St. John's ranks dead last in the conference in keeping its opponents off the offensive glass, yielding nearly 42 percent of opposing misses as second (or third, or fourth) chances. The Hoyas took those opportunities in the first game, as more Georgetown misses ended up back in Hoya hands (18) than were collected by the Red Storm (15). The freshmen were particularly opportunistic, with Greg Whittington grabbing six Hoya misses and Otto Porter five.
  • Red Storm's Strength. forcing turnovers. By most metrics, the Red Storm are nearly as flawed defensively as offensively, giving up high opposing shooting percentages in addition to all those rebounds. But they're pretty decent at forcing turnovers, where they rank fifth in the conference: Harrison, Harkless, Greene, Pointer, and Garrett each average a steal or better per game. And the Red Storm nabbed 10 steals in first game against the Hoyas, using several of those turnovers to run out to an early lead. While the Hoyas committed just 2 non-steal turnovers in the game, a few more steals or unforced errors could make things difficult on Sunday.
  • Player to watch: Otto Porter. Tough choice, here. Hollis Thompson had a day the first time out, torching the Red Storm with hot shooting after the half. And Henry Sims, though he shot just 1 of 5 in the opener, can expose the Johnnies' lack of depth by drawing fouls on Achiuwa. Finally, Whittington may get a chance to shine on offense, where he can pound the glass, on defense where, if the Hoyas go man, he may be called upon to check Harkless or Harrison. But Porter gets the check mark here, for his opportunistic offensive rebounding and timely scoring.

Prediction. The young Hoyas proved their mettle in front of 27,000-plus on Wednesday night, giving Syracuse all it could handle, and in turn giving themselves chances in the final minute to win the game. Can they sustain that intensity in front of a teeming crowd of 8,000-plus on Sunday? Until Harkless fouled out, the first game was much closer than the final margin suggests; the even-younger Red Storm kept within shouting distance thanks to an opportunistic defense and an off-and-on Hoya offense. In the rematch, the Hoyas will need to be sharper in their shot selection, their passing, and their defensive rotations from the tip to avoid a letdown. Georgetown 62, St. John's 53.