Big East’s best backcourts headline rivalry showdown as #23 Seton Hall visits St. John’s

Seton Hall Athletics

Tony Bozzella has always been sure to give plenty of credit to St. John’s when he’s spoken about the rest of the Big East. In fact, the second-year coach at Seton Hall has set the Red Storm’s success as a model to follow for his Pirates.

“They are the type of program that we tried to envision becoming when my staff took over,” Bozzella said. “It’s been a goal to get ranked and the ultimate goal is to reach the NCAA Tournament. I look at what St. John’s has done and that’s somebody that we are trying to model after because of the success that their program has had.”

Bozzella has paved his own success, coaching the blue and white to a 13-1 start, the best that the program has seen in its 41 years.

The one hurdle that the Pirates have yet to climb under Bozzella, though, is getting past St. John’s. On Friday, The Hall takes on the Red Storm in Queens in a highly-anticipated rivalry match-up. SHU has not won at Carnesecca Arena since Jan. 11, 2003. The program will look to break its drought there and win its 13th straight game.

“We know them and they know us,” graduate point guard Ka-Deidre Simmons said. “It’s always a war with St. John’s. It’s going to be a battle of toughness for at least 40 minutes, and it’s something we look forward to every year.”

Ka-Deidre Simmons has been part of a loaded backcourt for The Hall, which features three of the top eight scorers in the conference. Big East Player of the Week Tabatha Richardson-Smith is averaging 17.2 ppg while Ka-Deidre (16.6) and Daisha (16.5) Simmons have claimed player of the week honors as well this season and the three have made up the best all-around backcourt in the league, statistically.

St. John’s counters with 5-foot-9 guards Danaejah Grant and Aliyyah Handford, who have combined for 39.1 points per contest for a Red Storm team that has been solid defensively. While there isn’t much offensive depth on Tartamella’s side, the Johnnies are only allowing 51.8 ppg, nearly three points fewer than any other Big East team. Seton Hall allows 61.6 ppg, but the Pirates are outscoring St. John’s by 11 on average with 74.8 ppg. Something has to give as SHU’s backcourt, which averages over 50 themselves, takes on Tartamella’s team.

Tempo is also going to be very important, as it will be the Pirates who will aim to run up and down the floor. The Hall is 21st nationally with 11.9 steals per contest, but SHU is efficient on the offensive end as well, with only 12.7 turnovers (15th-best mark in the nation).

Who wins this match-up?

While Seton Hall’s Bra’Shey Ali and St. John’s Amber Thompson are two of the top three rebounders in the Big East with 9.4 and 11.8 boards per game respectively, this one comes down to the guard play. Seton Hall does have one more option in Daisha Simmons but the Red Storm’s defense is a concern. If the Johnnies can force the Pirates into foul trouble, especially at the guards, things could take a rough turn. But I think that’s the only way the SHU loses this game. The Pirates scored 70 on a Georgia team that was only giving up 48 on average to opponents last Sunday. If the Pirates can separate themselves in the perimeter game and keep their 33-percent mark from going down, they should be ok. St. John’s is averaging 23 percent from deep. The Red Storm only has 22 treys on the season, but last year, in their three wins over Seton Hall, they found enough of the hot hand from 18 feet away or just beyond the arc to make things happen. This is a different SHU team and I have the Pirates, 72-63.

John Fanta can be reached at or on twitter @John_Fanta and @SetonianSports.

Author: John Fanta

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