MBB hosts No. 15 St. John’s on New Year’s Eve
Seton Hall Athletics
St. John's strong start to the 2014-15 season is the best that the program has seen in nearly 30 years. The Red Storm has hardly missed a beat, boasting an 11-1 record ahead of Wednesday’s meeting at Prudential to take on the Pirates.
The Johnnies' success has started with defense, as the Red Storm has given up 58.2 points per game. Standing between St. John’s and an eighth win in a row is one of the most curious teams heading into conference play, the Seton Hall Pirates. All of sudden, 10-2 SHU has a question to answer. How will they perform without Isaiah Whitehead against legitimate opponents?
While the Pirates do not have a huge win yet, Whitehead was giving them a big boost, averaging nearly 12 points again. When he wasn’t scoring, he created offense, averaging 3.4 assists per game before going down with a week-to-week stress fracture injury in his right foot.
SHU's 7-0 start was the best for the program in five years, but the Pirates have faltered greatly in their two biggest tests against then No. 11 Wichita State and Georgia. While The Hall had no issues on Saturday in a 72-43 victory over Maine, the Red Storm's defense will give SHU one of its biggest tests of the season.
Sterling Gibbs will look to continue to charge SHU's offense as he has throughout this season, leading the way with 15.6 points, but he will need some help. Khadeen Carrington and Jaren Sina combined for 25 in Saturday's win over Maine while Gibbs shot 7-of-10 and had 18. Carrington's minutes have increased and head coach Kevin Willard has said he thinks he will be playing 27-30 minutes with Whitehead out, which is plenty to ask of the freshman. He has scored in double-figures in two of his last three games, but it's Sina who has struggled. The Pirates have gotten what Sina gave in his freshman year from Carrington this season, but it's the second-year guard that is looking to build off a 13-point performance on Saturday. Sina has averaged 7.3 points, but has had his struggles in trying to find his rhythm.
The Red Storm's scoring starts and ends with D'Angelo Harrison. The 6-foot-4 guard is a tough match-up for anybody. He's put up 19 points and 6.4 boards per game. Harrison put up 21 in Sunday's 82-57 rout over Tulane. Whitehead most likely would have played the All-Big East Preseason First Team honoree, but the Pirates have to figure out how they're going to guard at the wings. Gibbs is going to need some help, especially if Rysheed Jordan stays on a roll for St. John’s. The 6-foot-4 guard has raised the bar in his sophomore year, averaging over 14 points, 3.9 boards, and 3.1 assists per game. He did not play last week against Long Beach State before scoring 12 in a win over Tulane. Jordan had a solid 18 points in one of, if not the most convincing efforts by SJ of the year, a 73-66 loss to #7 Gonzaga. While it was a loss, the Red Storm gave the Bulldogs fits and proved that they belong.
While both teams have a good amount of scoring options in the backcourt, which makes for a strong competition, the battle on the glass poses an incredible challenge for Big East Rookie of the Week Angel Delgado and The Hall. While Delgado is second in the league with 8.8 rebounds per game, there's not one, but two Red Storm players right behind him that have dominated opposing teams on the glass. Chris Obekpa has done more than just make fashion statements with his shorts. He has averaged 8.8 boards per game
He and Delgado will duke it out down low, but the key match-up is how Brandon Mobley handles Sir'Dominic Pointer, who has been the surprise of the season for the Red Storm thus far. The possibility that Pointer could redshirt came up during the offseason, but he has been the glue for the Johnnies and Willard calls him "a nightmare to guard." Pointer had a career-high 24 points on Saturday, and had seven steals, four boards, and four assists as well. He and Obekpa have combined for 67 blocks on the season. The 6.9 blocks per game is the sixth-best mark in the nation. A young Seton Hall frontcourt is in for a deep test, which is why it’s all that much more important that the Pirates can find shooting from deep.
SHU could find a difference-maker in perimeter play, and the blue and white are shooting 39 percent from beyond the arc to the Red Storm’s 32 percent, which is dead last in the conference.
St. John’s has found some under-the-radar production from Phil Greene IV, who has delivered in orchestrating the offense with 11.2 points per game.
1. If the Pirates aren’t hitting shots from the perimeter, it’s going to be a tough afternoon. Angel Delgado has been one of the Big East’s strongest frontcourt players, but it’s a lot to ask of a freshman in this situation. If Mobley can spread the floor with Pointer, that leaves Delgado and Obekpa going at it. SHU is solid at spacing opposing frontcourts, that is, if Mobley can hit. He struggled greatly at Georgia, shooting 3-of-11 from the field, and he had the flu and did not start against Maine.
2. In the backcourt, Sina has been inconsistent, but the sophomore had several performances in his rookie year that were huge for The Hall. He hasn’t given them that yet this season, but Carrington has and is going to get played heavily. If the Pirates can give Gibbs somebody to compete with Harrison and Jordan, that can neutralize the backcourt play.
3. “We need it to be successful.” Sterling Gibbs said that when talking about pace. In order for Seton Hall to be successful, having pace will help them greatly. Getting to the rim against an outstanding blocking team in St. John’s will be a tall task in the frontcourt unless the Pirates can force Obekpa up and down the floor and may even into a little bit of foul trouble.
John Fanta can be reached at email@example.com