QUEENS, N.Y. -
With victories in six of their last seven games, head coach Steve Lavin and his St. John's basketball team (15-8, 7-4 BIG EAST) -- featuring four active scholarship freshmen, five sophomores and one junior -- make the 300 mile trip to Onondaga County, N.Y., to meet No. 9/9 Syracuse (19-3, 7-2 BIG EAST) on Sunday. The 3 p.m. matchup -- the fourth of five-consecutive for the Red Storm on national television and first of two-straight on ESPN's flagship -- airs on the "Worldwide Leader" with announcers Dave Pasch and Dan Dakich. The matchup can be heard live on the official radio network of St. John's Basketball, Bloomberg Radio 1130-AM, and on RedStormSports.com (subscription), with announcers John Minko and Brandon Tierney.
The Last Meeting
No. 2/2 Syracuse
February 4, 2012
New York, N.Y. (Madison Square Garden)
No. 2/2 Orange Too Much For St. John's, 95-70
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was answering a lot of questions about his team after No. 2 Syracuse's latest win. One of his most interesting responses, however, was about the St. John's team his Orange had just beaten 95-70 on Saturday.
Lavin is back in 2012-13 after posting a 2-2 record last season while making a full recovery from prostate cancer surgery (Oct. 6, 2011). Dr. Peter Scardino of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center placed Lavin on a modified schedule in 2011-12 that kept him off the sideline, enabling Lavin to better focus on a full recuperation, while simultaneously securing the No. 8 recruiting class in the nation per HoopScoop.com. St. John's 2012 rookie class is comprised of eight standout student-athletes representing five countries. The highly-acclaimed group followed a 2011 class ranked No. 3 nationally by ESPN. Lavin's record at St. John's is 38-22.
St. John's is 2-2 on the season against ranked opponents, topping then-No. 20/20 Notre Dame at The Garden (67-63, Jan. 15) and winning at then-No. 14/15 Cincinnati (53-52, Jan. 5). The Red Storm has slayed nine Top 25 giants during the Lavin Era, eight coming with the third-year head coach on the sidelines. According to RPIRankings.com (Feb. 8), St. John's owns a current RPI of 56, with the 25th-toughest schedule in the nation (11-3 home; 4-3 road; 0-2 neutral). That includes a 3-2 road mark in the BIG EAST, with wins at Rutgers (72-60, Jan. 23), at DePaul (71-62, Jan. 19) and at Cincinnati.
Syracuse is the fifth-winningest program in NCAA Division I history with 1,863 victories; St. John's is seventh with 1,752. Syracuse has the seventh-best winning percentage all-time at .693; St. John's is 10th at .655. The two schools have 62 NCAA Tournament appearances between them (Syracuse 35, 8th; STJ 27, T-18th) in 216 combined seasons on the hardwood (Syracuse 111, STJ 105). Both programs were original members of the BIG EAST Conference.
Sunday marks the 87th meeting in a series that dates to 1912, making Syracuse STJ's seventh-most faced opponent. The Orange holds a 49-37 edge, having won seven-straight contests overall and eight at The Dome since STJ's 75-70 win on Jan. 27, 1999. The schools announced Jan. 30 that they will play two more seasons, including at The Garden on Dec. 15, 2013.
A Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team selection, Harrison is second in the league in scoring with 18.5 points per game (T-35th nationally), and his 78.6 percent success rate at the free throw line ranks tied for 15th among all BIG EAST players. The six-time BIG EAST Honor Roll member's 2.1 made 3-pointers per game rate fifth in the conference, he holds the team lead and is tied for 11th in the league with 1.6 steals per game and his 35.0 minutes per game rank eighth in the BIG EAST. He is currently firing at a rate of 41.1 percent from the field and owns a 32.0 mark from beyond the arc. He has reached the 20-point plateau in 13 of St. John's first 23 games and scored a career-high 36 at Villanova (Jan. 2).
Second-year guard Phil Greene IV is making a run as the BIG EAST's Most Improved Player. After averaging 7.6 ppg as a freshman, he is currently scoring at an 8.9 ppg clip and showing his ability as a dynamic playmaker despite a hip injury. His 2.8 assists per game are in the top 20 among all BIG EAST players and his 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio is ranked seventh.
Sophomore swingman Amir Garrett spent the offseason in professional baseball as a left-handed pitcher within the Cincinnati Reds minor league system. In BIG EAST play he is averaging 5.8 ppg and 3.6 rebounds with an impressive .474 field goal percentage (12th) in 18.3 minutes per game.
Motor City sophomore Sir'Dominic Pointer is averaging 8.4 ppg on a league-second 63.3 percent shooting mark, with 6.0 rpg (T-14th) and 1.5 spg (13th) in league play. St. John's toughest on-ball defender is heating up, averaging 9.4 ppg on 60.9 percent shooting from the field (28-of-46) with 6.2 rebounds (17-of-56 offensive), 2.3 assists and 1.6 steals across the last nine games.
Five-time BIG EAST Rookie of the Week JaKarr Sampson leads BIG EAST freshmen in both scoring (14.5 ppg, T-14th overall) and rebounding (6.6 rpg, 11th overall). His rejections (1.22, 10th) and defensive rebounds per game (4.7, eighth) are listed among the BIG EAST Conference leaders. Two of Sampson's preseason dunks were selected as SportsCenter Top 10 plays.
A game-changing shotblocker, 6-9 Chris Obekpa -- the rookie with the 7-5 wingspan who is second in the nation in rejections with 101 -- led STJ with a school-record 11 blocked shots in the victory vs. Fordham (Dec. 8), and has 10 games of five rejections or more. He tied the St. John's single-season record (76) in only 15 games, and eclipsed it in 16, now averaging 4.4 bpg. In conference play, he averages a league-leading 3.4 swats and is tied for 12th with 6.2 rebounds.
Texas A&M transfer point guard Jamal Branch has now played in 10 games, drawing seven starts with five wins. In BIG EAST play he is averaging 9.0 ppg, hitting at a 50.0 percent clip from the field (33-of-66, 11th), and adding 2.6 assists and 1.6 steals (T-10th). He scored a career-best 18 at DePaul (Jan. 19).
French sharpshooter Marc-Antoine Bourgault has caught fire in the last two games, which includes one start. He is averaging 11.5 ppg, which includes 47.1 percent field goal shooting and a 5-of-9 mark (.556) beyond the arc.
Athletic wing Felix Balamou continues to be a key playmaker. In the last 21 games he has averaged 2.3 ppg, connecting on 20-of-44 field goals (.455) while contributing 1.2 rpg in 9.2 minutes.
The final member of Lavin's eight-man recruiting class, freshman Christian Jones was the surprise of the preseason. In exhibition play he averaged 12.5 ppg on 66.7 percent shooting with 8.5 rebounds, and has scored in 13-of-17 appearances on the year.
JUCO transfer Orlando Sanchez will not participate Sunday as he awaits an eligibility ruling from the NCAA. Harvard transfer Max Hooper is eligible for game participation in the 2013-14 season.
Senior big man God'sgift Achiuwa, who averaged 9.5 ppg and 5.6 rpg in his JUCO transfer year in 2011-12, is in the midst of a redshirt season. Achiuwa, a member of St. John's University's prestigious President's Society, could complete Master's degree requirements by the end of 2013-14.
St. John's heads west to Louisville's KFC Yum! Center for a Valentine's Day meeting at 9 p.m. on ESPN.
Harrison And The 1,000-Point Plateau
Red Storm sophomore guard D'Angelo Harrison should become the 48th St. John's player in history to reach the 1,000-point milestone. With 970 career points, Harrison is only 30 away from the plateau, which he should reach in the next two to three contests.
Harrison will have a special place in St. John's basketball history when he reaches the milestone, as he'll be one of only a handful of two-year players to post that number.
Harrison, who has played in 55 career games, will likely reach 1,000 career points in game No. 57, 58 or 59. Any of those three assures Harrison of going into the record book as one of the fastest 12 players to hit that mark.
If Harrison reaches 1,000 in the next two games, he assures himself a top 10 finish.
The St. John's Class of 2011 featured the last three 1,000-point scorers. D.J. Kennedy, who finished his career 12th all-time with 1,504 career points, hit the plateau as a junior. Paris Horne (30th; 1,199) and Justin Burrell (47th; 1,007) both reached the milestone as four-year seniors.
The Red Storm is 4-3 overall and 3-2 on the road in the BIG EAST, having posted road wins at Rutgers (72-60, Jan. 23), DePaul (71-62, Jan. 19) and then-No. 14/15 Cincinnati (53-52, Jan. 5). Earlier in the season, St. John's also scored a victory over the host Cougars at the College of Charleston Classic (64-53, Nov. 15).
As with all of St. John's win totals when compared to a season ago, the Red Storm's road record and current RPI is reflective of a team much improved from a 2-10 mark in 2011-12.
As a team, St. John's averages 66.7 ppg on the road, with a 42.5 percent mark from the field. The Red Storm has held opponents to 67.7 ppg and a stingy 39.6 percent shooting in their home venues, while swatting 31 shots to the opposition's 24.
D'Angelo Harrison often draws the most ire from the road crowds, as well he should with a 17.6 ppg scoring average in road contests, firing at a 39.4 rate from the field and grabbing 4.1 rebounds. JaKarr Sampson is scoring 13.9 ppg with 6.7 rpg, while Jamal Branch is averaging 10.3 points on 56.3 percent shooting with 3.3 assists in four career road games at St. John's. Amir Garrett (7.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, .571 FG pct.), Sir'Dominic Pointer (7.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, .454 FG pct.) and Phil Greene IV (7.0 ppg, 2.1 assists) have also performed admirably in hostile environments.
No. 9/9 Syracuse comes into Sunday's rivalry matchup at 19-3 and 7-2 in the BIG EAST, tied for first in the conference. The Orange has an RPI of 8 with a strength of schedule ranked as the 16th toughest in the nation. So far this season, Syracuse has been unstoppable at home, with a perfect 14-0 record. In the Orange's last game, it snapped a two-game losing skid with a 63-47 win over No. 25 Notre Dame at the Carrier Dome.
Statistically, the Orange is the highest-scoring team in the BIG EAST at 75.4 points per game. Syracuse's strength is turning defense into offense as the Orange allows teams to shoot just .363 from the field and .283 from behind the arc, both tops in the league.
Individually, senior guard Brandon Triche is the Orange's leading scorer at 14.5 ppg, and is one of four SU players averaging double figures along with junior forward C.J. Fair (13.9 ppg), senior forward James Southerland (13.6 ppg) and sophomore guard Michael Carter-Williams (12.2 ppg). Fair is the team's leading rebounder at 7.1 boards per contest while Carter-Williams is the conference leader with 8.5 assists per game.
Head Coach Jim Boeheim is one of the winningest coaches in college basketball history, with 909 career wins, which is second all-time. In his 35 years in Syracuse as the head coach, Boeheim has never had a losing season and has guided his team to four Final Four berths.
In the last meeting between the two schools last Feb. 4, D'Angelo Harrison scored a game-high 23, Moe Harkless added 15 and Phil Greene IV chipped in 14, but it wasn't enough to overcome five players in double figures for the No. 2/2 Orange, who took the 95-70 victory at Madison Square Garden.