QUEENS, N.Y. -
Off to the best BIG EAST start in 11 seasons, Steve Lavin and the upperclass St. John's men's basketball team (10-4, 3-1 BIG EAST) return home to Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, taking on upstate conference rival No. 4/4 Syracuse (16-0, 3-0 BIG EAST). The Red Storm and Orange meet on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in what will be St. John's third-straight nationally televised contest (ESPNU), with announcers Carter Blackburn and LaPhonso Ellis calling the action. The matchup can be viewed on ESPN3.com, and heard live on the official flagship of St. John's Basketball, Bloomberg Radio 1130-AM, and on RedStormSports.com (subscription), with John Minko and analyst Tarik Turner. A matchup between the St. John's women and the No. 2/2 UConn Huskies follows as part of the doubleheader.
Currently listed at No. 4/4 in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches polls, Syracuse is the third ranked opponent of the 2010-11 season for the Red Storm -- and the third of eight-straight opponents currently ranked in the Top 25. Before toppling No. 13/13 Georgetown, 61-58, on Monday, Jan. 3, at The Garden, St. John's senior class had defeated only one Top 25 team over the past three years -- No. 7/10 Notre Dame on Jan. 3, 2009 -- with that victory coming at MSG as well. Each of STJ's seven Top 25 wins since 2004-05 have occurred at The Garden. Lavin now owns 29 career wins against ranked opponents.
The Red Storm earned four points in Monday's AP Poll (tied for 39th nationally), having posted three-straight league victories before falling at then-No. 14/15 Notre Dame (now No. 9/11). The national poll votes are the first for a Red Storm team since Dec. 28, 2009, following St. John's 10-2 start to the 2009-10 season, which included Philly Hoop Group Classic wins over Siena and Temple. The last time STJ was ranked in the AP Top 25 was on Nov. 28, 2000, at No. 24.
With a 10-4 record that includes five wins away from home, St. John's is currently ranked No. 12 in the Jan. 10 RPI report released by the NCAA. According to www.RPIratings.com's daily update, STJ has the fifth-strongest schedule in the nation (25th non-conference).
Wednesday's game marks the 84th meeting all-time between St. John's and Syracuse in a series that dates back to 1912. St. John's trails the all-time series 37-46 and 20-33 in BIG EAST games. The Red Storm holds a 16-13 advantage in home games. Syracuse has won the last four games between the teams, and 10 of the last 11. The Red Storm last defeated the Orange, 64-60, on Jan. 21, 2007, in Madison Square Garden. Last year, Syracuse took an 85-66 win at the Carrier Dome. D.J. Kennedy led St. John's with 19 points and Paris Horne added 18 points.
Lavin is 1-1 against Syracuse. As UCLA's head coach, Lavin directed the Bruins to a 93-69 victory over coach Jim Boeheim's Syracuse team on Feb. 21, 1999, at Pauley Pavilion. The following year, UCLA fell to Syracuse, 71-67, on Feb. 13, 2000 at the Carrier Dome.
Syracuse is 16-0 this season, 1-0 on the road and 3-0 in BIG EAST play. The Orange is averaging 76.0 points per game and has played some of the best defense in the nation, holding opponents to 59.8 points. Syracuse is shooting 47.8 percent from the field and has limited opponents to just 37.2 percent shooting. SU's perimeter defense has played a major role in the team's stout defense, limiting opponents to shooting 27.6 percent from 3-point range. The team also ranks among the nation's best in assists (17.0 apg) and steals (9.1 spg). Syracuse's most-challenging area is free throw shooting as the Orange is firing at a 64.4 percent clip from the line and a league-worst 59.3 percent in BIG EAST games. Conference play has featured tougher games for SU. The team's average margin of victory in its 13 non-conference wins is 14.7 points. In three BIG EAST wins, the Orange is winning by an average margin of eight points. Syracuse has not lost on the road since a 78-68 loss at Louisville on March 6, 2010.
The Orange offense centers around the play of junior forward Kris Joseph, junior guard Scoop Jardine and senior forward Rick Jackson. Joseph, who won last year's BIG EAST Sixth Man Award, paces the team in scoring at 15.1 points per game and has elevated his play to 20.0 points per game in BIG EAST contests. Jardine is averaging 13.8 points and 6.0 assists (second in the BIG EAST) per game. He is scoring 16.0 points and dishing 6.3 assists in BIG EAST games. Jackson ranks fourth in the nation and first in the BIG EAST in rebounding with 11.9 boards per game. He is scoring 13.2 points per game and is one of just a handful of players averaging a double-double this season. Jackson is also averaging 2.25 blocks per game (3.3 bpg in BIG EAST play).
The St. John's senior class is 0-3 against Syracuse despite strong performances against the Orange by Paris Horne, D.J. Kennedy and Justin Burrell. Horne has averaged 13.0 points per game against Syracuse, including an 18-point showing on March 2, 2010 and a 17-point performance on Feb. 24, 2009. Kennedy and Burrell have averaged 12.3 points against the Orange. Burrell had an outstanding 21-point, 12-rebound showcase against SU as a freshman on Jan. 2, 2008. Kennedy led St. John's with 19 points last year. Sean Evans (6.7 ppg) and Malik Boothe (4.3 apg) have also been key contributors the last three times St. John's has faced Syracuse.
Syracuse's slimmest victories have been 3-point wins over William & Mary and Michigan. In the Orange's 63-60 win over William & Mary on Nov. 11, the Tribe stayed close thanks largely to 33 points (10-of-22) from 3-point range. Michigan, which fell, 53-50, to Syracuse on Nov. 26, committed just nine turnovers, but poor second-half shooting (28.6 percent) cost the Wolverines in the end. Both William & Mary and Michigan could not contain Joseph, who scored 18 and 20 points against them, respectively.
In 2009-10, Syracuse went 30-5 overall and won the BIG EAST regular season title with a 15-3 conference record. The Orange's season ended in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen with a 63-59 loss to Butler in Salt Lake City, Utah. SU was ranked at No. 4 in the final Associated Press poll and No. 8 in the final ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll. Syracuse returned 11 letterwinners from last season, including two starters.
Syracuse's Jim Boeheim is in his 35th season leading the Orange and has compiled an 845-293 career coaching record. Boeheim has a 37-21 career record against St. John's, however he is just 9-10 on STJ's home court. During his tenure, SU has made 27 trips into the NCAA Tournament, including Final Four appearances in 1987, 1996 and 2003, and the NCAA championship in 2003.
Dynamic senior swingman D.J. Kennedy paced the Red Storm in scoring (15.1 ppg), rebounding (202, 6.1 rpg), assists (102, 3.1 apg), steals (38, 1.2 spg), free throw percentage (.756), 3-point field goal percentage (T-1st, .383) and minutes played (31.4 per game) in 2009-10, and was listed second among St. John's leaders in blocked shots (22). Kennedy -- whose scoring (19th) and rebounding (21st) averages ranked him among conference leaders -- was a six-time BIG EAST Honor Roll member last season and is a two-time first team All-Met selection from the Metropolitan Basketball Writers' Association (2008-09, 2009-10). He is now 22nd on STJ's all-time scoring list with 1,333 career points, and if he matches last season's point total (497), Kennedy will finish his career in the Top 10 among St. John's all-time scorers -- a list that includes legends Chris Mullin (first, 2,440), Malik Sealy (second, 2,402), Felipe Lopez (third, 1,927) and Tony Jackson (ninth, 1,603).
New York City playground legend Dwight Hardy made quite an impression as a prolific scorer in 2009-10, finishing second on the squad with a 10.5 ppg average. This season Hardy is pacing the Red Storm, starting all 14 games and hitting at a 16.0 ppg clip to rank seventh among all BIG EAST players. A multi-dimensional athlete with the ability to get into the paint and draw contact, Hardy's .922 free throw percentage (71-of-77) is currently second in the league, and tied for 11th nationally.
Holiday Festival and Great Alaska Shootout MOP Justin Brownlee has been in the starting lineup for 12 games in 2010-11 after making three starts last season. His 14.6 ppg rank 16th in the league, and his .533 field goal percentage is 13th.
Rookie forward Dwayne Polee II -- the 2010 Los Angeles City Section and MaxPreps State of California High School Player of the Year -- impressed in the preseason and has made an immediate impact in the first 14 games. The athletic newcomer with the 40-inch vertical has averaged 7.0 points and 3.7 rebounds over the past six contests, while making 20-of-34 field goals (.588) and swatting 1.0 shots over 21.2 minutes per game.
Lightning-quick and Queens-tough, senior Malik Boothe returns as the incumbent floor general. He currently ranks in the Top 20 among all BIG EAST players with a 3.2 assists per game average, and his 2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio (42 assists, 15 turnovers on the year) ranks second among league leaders. His efforts have helped the Red Storm rate third among league leaders and as high as second nationally in turnover margin (+4.6).
Senior guard Paris Horne -- one of STJ's toughest perimeter defenders -- is also on-pace to leave his mark in the Red Storm's offensive career record books. With 132 career 3-point field goals made -- including the game-winner at Providence (Jan. 1) -- Horne currently is third all-time and is only 19 treys short of moving into first place. His 1,036 career points make him St. John's 46th member of the 1,000-point club.
Senior forward Justin Burrell has contributed in all 14 games after missing four weeks in the preseason with a fractured metacarpal (hand). The big man is averaging 10.2 ppg over the last five games on a 19-of-30 effort from the field (.633), and has added 4.4 rebounds per contest in 23.8 minutes.
Bruising forward Sean Evans established himself among the Red Storm's most consistent performers in 2009-10. Evans' 10 career double-doubles include a 19-point, 10-rebound effort against UConn in the BIG EAST Tournament. He averaged 15.5 ppg and 8.5 rpg while shooting .765 from the field and 1.000 at the free throw line (5-for-5) in last year's end-of-year conference event.
Imposing big man Dele Coker returns to the post after leading the squad in field goal percentage (.629) and rejections (24). He scored buckets vs. St. Bonaventure (Dec. 7), Fordham (Dec. 11), Georgetown (Jan. 3) and Notre Dame (Jan. 8).
Local guard Malik Stith has seen time at the one and the two after dealing 37 assists and only 22 turnovers as a freshman. He is averaging 4.6 ppg this season, with 19 assists and seven turnovers.
St. John's returns to The Garden to meet No. 9/11 Notre Dame for the second time in eight days on Sunday, Jan. 16 (noon, MSG).