QUEENS, N.Y. - Two of the storied and winningest programs in collegiate basketball history clash on the hardwood on Saturday as head coach Steve Lavin'sSt. John's basketball team (9-11, 3-6 BIG EAST) travels to Cameron Indoor Stadium to take on No. 8/6 Duke (17-3, 5-1 ACC). The noon matchup will air nationally on ESPN and via ESPN3, with Brent Musburger and Dick Vitale calling the action. The matchup can be heard live on the official radio flagship of St. John's Basketball, Bloomberg Radio 1130-AM, and on RedStormSports.com (subscription), with veteran play-by-play announcer John Minko and "The Coach" Tim O'Toole.
Saturday's matchup features two of the NCAA's all-time most-celebrated collegiate basketball programs. Duke is the fourth-winningest program all-time with 1,960 victories; St. John's is seventh with 1,733. Duke has the fifth-best winning percentage all-time at .702; St. John's is 10th at .656. The two schools have 62 NCAA Tournament appearances between them (Duke 35, T-6th; STJ 27, T-17th) in 210 combined seasons on the hardwood (Duke 106, STJ 104).
St. John's "Freshman Five" starting lineup in its 78-62 Wednesday win over West Virginia is believed to be a first for the program since 1927-28, when three original "Wonder Five" members Mac Kinsbrunner, Jack "Rip" Gerson and Max Posnack first took the floor for legendary St. John's coach and Naismith Hall of Famer James "Buck" Freeman.
Duke represents the eighth Top 25 opponent for St. John's in 2011-12 (0-7). In 33 games in 2010-11, St. John's faced 15 opponents that were ranked at one point during the year (45 percent). The Red Storm defeated six Top 25 teams last year, including four in the Top 10. Five of those wins came at Madison Square Garden, including a 93-78 victory over the No. 3/3 Blue Devils on Jan. 30, 2011, which sparked an 8-1 stretch that propelled the Red Storm to an undefeated BIG EAST February and eventually its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2002.
Saturday's contest marks the 14th-straight season in which Duke and St. John's have met on the hardwood. Duke holds a 14-6 overall advantage in the series and a 5-1 all-time record against the Red Storm at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils have now won 93-straight non-conference games at Cameron, last falling to an upstart St. John's team. On Feb. 26, 2000, a raucous crowd welcomed the Red Storm to Cameron Indoor for a battle against then No. 2 Duke. Marvis "Bootsy" Thornton scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead five St. John's players in double-figures as the Red Storm edged the Blue Devils, 83-82. Lavor Postell added 16 and Erick Barkley netted 14.
Following successful surgery to treat prostate cancer on Oct. 6, Lavin continues to follow a modified schedule with regard to his coaching duties. Lavin has coached in four games this season (2-2) including two games at Madison Square Garden against ranked competition as part of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer on Nov. 17 and 18. He continues to perform coast-to-coast and local recruiting, media and other head coaching responsibilities as he recuperates. Lavin's efforts helped land former Texas A&M freshman point guard, former Top 50 Class of 2011 prospect and the No. 8 prep point guard in the nation, Jamal Branch, who began practice with the team last week and will be eligible to suit up for the Red Storm in December of 2012.
Rated as high as the nation's No. 38 prospect overall and the No. 10 small forward by recruiting services, Queens'-own Moe Harklessis a complete basketball player and elite local talent. The 6-8, 208-pound swingman spent his 2010-11 senior season at South Kent School (Conn.). An athletic, rangy shooter with great length on defense, he was the 2009-10 Daily News Queens High School Player of the Year and was a member of the Daily News' and NY Post's all-metro teams in 2008-09 and 2009-10. The freshman's scoring average of 18.1 points per game in conference action ranks fifth among all BIG EAST players, his team-leading 9.1 rebounds per game in conference play is tied for sixth, his 2.1 blocked shots rates third in league play and his 51.2 BIG EAST field goal percentage is tied for 11th. Harkless leads all BIG EAST freshmen in scoring (16.0 ppg), is second in rebounding (8.6 rpg) and averages 15.7 ppg and 9.0 rpg on the road.
Rookie guard D'Angelo Harrison, a 6-3, 202-pound athlete from Missouri City, Texas, finished his prep tenure rated as high as the nation's No. 9 shooting guard and No. 40 overall prospect by recruiting services. The two-time all-state selection averaged 31.1 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.6 steals as a senior at Dulles High School in Sugar Land, Texas, and is renowned for his explosive first step, long-range game and his ability to fill up the stat sheet. He is averaging 17.1 ppg in league play, sixth among BIG EAST players, his 81.0 percent success rate from the free throw line in league contests ranks ninth in the BIG EAST and his 1.8 steals is 12th. Harrison is currently the BIG EAST's second-leading freshman scorer at 15.5 ppg, and he has scored 20 or more points in four of the last 10 games, averaging 17.5 ppg across that stretch while grabbing 4.0 rebounds and drilling 81.0 percent of his free throws.
Junior big man God'sgift Achiuwa, a 6-8, 236-pound bruising athlete with an 87-inch wingspan from Port Harcourt, River States, Nigeria via Erie Community College (N.Y.), is a 2011 first team NJCAA All-America and a two-time JUCO All-America selection overall. He ranked ninth in the NJCAA in scoring last season (22.3 ppg), 10th in rebounding (11.7 rpg) and 17th in blocks (2.2 bpg). He is third on the squad in scoring (10.6 ppg), his 6.5 rpg rank 15th in the BIG EAST and his team-best 53.2 percent shooting from the floor is ninth among all league players. He scored 20 points with seven boards at Marquette (Jan. 11).
Freshman swingman Sir'Dominic Pointer, a 6-5, 196-pound native of Detroit, Mich., was rated as high as the No. 8 small forward in his class and the No. 24 prospect overall by recruiting services. He keyed Quality Education Academy to a 25-4 record as a senior in 2010-11. His 2.0 steals per game across nine league contests currently rank tied for 10th among all BIG EAST players. He is averaging 8.0 ppg and 5.5 rpg in the last two contests, with 2.0 spg, 2.0 apg and 1.5 bpg.
A smooth, deft ballhandler ranked as high as the No. 41 shooting guard in his recruiting class, 6-2, 180-pound Chicago native Phil Greenescored 24.5 points per game with 6.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 3.0 steals to lead IMG Academy. The combo guard has the ability to get into the lane and pull up, or dish and create for others. A hard-nosed defender, Greene adds length and speed to "Chicago toughness" which gives him the ability to guard perimeter players. He has averaged 11.7 ppg over the last three games, shooting 50.0 percent from the field and dishing 16 assists (5.3 per game) with only six turnovers.
St. John's received an early Christmas present on Dec. 21 as rookie forward and Top 100 prospect Amir Garrettwas declared eligible and joined the squad. Garrett, who was selected by the Cincinnati Reds for his 96 m.p.h. southpaw fastball, is averaging 7.5 ppg over the last four contests with 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals.
Local 5-11, 187-pound junior guard Malik Stithis the only returning varsity letterwinner on the 2011-12 Red Storm roster. He has seen time at the one and the two in his first three seasons and came within two points of his career high with 11 vs. UMBC (Nov. 13).
From "Wonder Five" To "Fresh Five"
St. John's "Freshman Five" starting lineup of Phil Greene, D'Angelo Harrison, Moe Harkess, Sir'Dominic Pointer and Amir Garrettin its Jan. 25 78-62 win over West Virginia is believed to be a first for the program since 1927-28. That season, three original "Wonder Five" members Mac Kinsbrunner, Jack "Rip" Gerson and Max Posnack first took the floor for legendary St. John's coach and Naismith Hall of Famer James "Buck" Freeman.
The "Wonder Five" never won a national championship in their two seasons together but in that time they did manage to make St. John's the darling of New York fans and bring the Redmen a national following.
Freeman went from St. John's player to St. John's coach over the summer of 1927 and the sport would never be the same. His first team featured freshmen Kinsbrunner, Gerson and Posnack with two other first-year players as starters. The team played a style that featured constant ball movement, including having the pivot touch it, and new plays such as the give-and-go. The Redmen won their first eight games that season and finished 18-4. The freshman class would lose that many games over the next three seasons, going 23-2, 23-1 and 21-1.
Allie Shuckman joined the team in 1929-30. Matty Begovich started as a freshman the season after that and the Wonder Five was complete: Kinsbrunner -- an amazing dribbler, Gerson -- the spark plug on offense and defense, Schuckman -- the shooter, Begovich -- the pivot, and Posnack -- the captain and the team's best passer.
They captured New York's imagination as a team of neighborhood kids playing basketball a different way, a fun way, a successful way. Defense was also a key for Freeman's team and playing keep away was its most effective tactic as the Redmen often held teams without a field goal for long periods of time.
The team outgrew the buildings it played in and it was the Wonder Five who moved college basketball into the big arenas, specifically Madison Square Garden where a special charity game between St. John's and CCNY was arranged. The Redmen beat the Beavers 17-9, their second win over CCNY that season.
The Wonder Five made its last appearance on March 4, 1931, and seniors Gerson, Kinsbrunner and Posnack went out with a 30-16 victory over Manhattan. Posnack was considered by many to be the best player college basketball had seen to that time and there was almost unanimous consent that the Wonder Five was the best team to have ever taken the court.
Duke comes into Saturday's matchup ranked No. 8/6 in the nation, with an RPI ranking of 2, thanks in part to the toughest schedule in the country. The Blue Devils' last game at home was a loss to Florida State which snapped a 45-game winning streak, the second longest such streak in the nation, and the second longest in Duke history.
The Blue Devils are led by a talented starting five of freshman guard Austin Rivers, junior guard Seth Curry, junior forward Ryan Kelly, junior forward Mason Plumlee, and junior guard Andre Dawkins, all of whom average in double figures in scoring. Rivers leads the team in scoring at 14.2 points per game, while Plumlee averages almost a double-double a game with 9.4 rebounds per contest. Curry is the team leader in assists at 2.7 per game.
As a team, Duke is 11th in the nation in scoring (80.2) and 12th in field goal percentage (.492). As with most Mike Krzyzewski-coached teams, the Blue Devils shoot at a high clip from long range, making 40% of their threes, 16th best in the nation.
Another impressive streak for Duke is its non-conference home winning streak, in which the Blue Devils have not lost to a non-conference opponent in 93-straight games. The last non-conference team to beat the Blue Devils in Cameron Indoor Stadium was the 1999-2000 St. John's squad who took home an 83-82 win on Feb. 26, 2000.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski is in his 32nd season at the helm in Durham, with an 838-226 record at Duke and a 911-285 record overall. Earlier this season, Krzyzewski passed mentor Bob Knight to become the winningest coach in the history of Division I men's basketball. Krzyzewski is also just the fifth coach in NCAA history to win at least 800 games at one school, and has the most NCAA tournament wins of any coach in history with 79.
The Blue Devils lead the all-time series with St. John's 14-6, and hold a 5-1 record at Cameron Indoor Stadium. In their last meeting, the Red Storm stunned No. 3 Duke, 93-78 at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 28, 2011, led by a 26-point night from Dwight Hardy. In the last game in Durham, the Blue Devils pulled out an 80-71 win on Dec. 5, 2009.