QUEENS, N.Y. -
Already playing a consensus top-two national schedule and now amidst a stretch of three conference games in six days -- including two-straight away matchups -- head coach Steve Lavin and the St. John's men's basketball team (14-9, 6-5 BIG EAST) take to the road for their second season meeting with Cincinnati (19-5, 6-5 BIG EAST). The Red Storm, locking up with the Bearcats for the second time in 22 days to close out its final home-and-home BIG EAST series, faces UC at noon on Sunday in a game that will be televised in the New York area on the MSG Network, with announcers John Sanders and Anthony Buford calling the action. The matchup can also be viewed via the Internet at www.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.
St. John's has now defeated four Top 25 teams -- including three in the top 10 -- and five top 25 RPI teams, in 2010-11. Before toppling No. 10/9 UConn, 89-72, on Thursday, Feb. 10, then-No. 3/3 Duke, 93-78, on Sunday, Jan. 30, then-No. 9/11 Notre Dame on Sunday, Jan. 16, and then-No. 13/13 Georgetown, 61-58, on Monday, Jan. 3, St. John's senior class had defeated only one Top 25 team in the past three years -- No. 7/10 Notre Dame on Jan. 3, 2009. The last time St. John's defeated more than three ranked opponents in one season was 1999-00, with six. The last time STJ was ranked in the AP Top 25 was on Nov. 28, 2000, at No. 24. The Red Storm is still looking for a giant-killing on the road, as each of St. John's nine Top 25 wins since 2004-05 have occurred at The Garden. Lavin now owns 32 career wins against ranked opponents.
Sunday's game marks the 13th meeting all-time between St. John's and Cincinnati in a series that dates to 1952. The series is tied at 6-6 and Cincinnati holds a 4-3 advantage in BIG EAST play. On the road, St. John's is 1-2 against UC. The Red Storm's only win at Cincinnati was on Feb. 4, 2007 when STJ took a 73-64 victory. When the two teams played on Jan. 22, STJ missed 14 free throws and Cincinnati took a 53-51 win in Carnesecca Arena. Lavin is 1-1 against Cincinnati. As UCLA's head coach, Lavin directed the Bruins to a thrilling 105-101 double-overtime upset of top-seeded Cincinnati in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on March 17, 2002. The Bearcats were the first No. 1 seed to exit the 2002 NCAA Tournament.
The Red Storm is 5-6 away from home in the 2010-11 season, with the clash at Cincinnati marking St. John's ninth true road game of the year (2-6). Trips to Moraga, Calif., and Anchorage, Alaska, for the 2010 Great Alaska Shootout title saw St. John's cover 12,860 miles via air prior to Dec. 1.
With a 14-9 record (6-5 BIG EAST) that includes five wins away from home, St. John's is currently ranked No. 19 according to www.RPIratings.com's Feb. 11 update. STJ has the second-strongest schedule in the nation, behind only Tennessee. (Jerry P. Palm of www.CollegeRPI.com has the Red Storm's current S.O.S. at No. 1.)
The Jan. 30 victory over Duke was before a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden (19,353). The last time St. John's sold out a regular season game at "The World's Most Famous Arena" was on March 2, 2003, when the Red Storm upset No. 6 Duke, 72-71, before a sellout crowd of 19,610. Marcus Hatten capped a 29-point performance by hitting the game-winning free throw with no time remaining. The Red Storm sold out two-straight home games, as 5,602 fans attended the Jan. 22 contest against No. 25 Cincinnati at Carnesecca Arena in Queens.
St. John's is 9-3 on the season and 5-0 in BIG EAST play when leading at the half. The team is 4-6 when trailing at halftime, with second-half comebacks against Columbia, Arizona State, Davidson and Northwestern.
St. John's earned win No. 1,700 in program history by defeating Notre Dame (69-68) on Feb. 14, 2010, won No. 1,701 with a victory at USF (74-58) on Feb. 20, captured No. 1,702 with its triple-overtime thriller over DePaul (90-82) on March 5, and knocked off UConn on March 9 for No. 1,703. Fourteen wins in 2010-11 make 1,717.
On the season, St. John's is 5-4 in games decided by five points or less and 8-5 in games decided by 10 points or less. St. John's played its share of close battles last season, with 11 of its 16 losses coming by 10 or fewer points. The Red Storm held leads in the second half in seven of its 12 BIG EAST defeats in 2009-10, and led at halftime in six of those losses, including three against ranked opponents. Attaining, playing with and keeping leads -- particularly on the road -- have been major points of emphasis since the 2010-11 preseason.
The Dec. 29 81-71 victory at West Virginia helped first-year head coach Steve Lavin continue a trend he established in seven years as the head man at UCLA, as he now owns a 6-2 career record in conference openers. St. John's has now won three of its last 11 league debuts (2010-11, at West Virginia; 2006-07, DePaul at MSG; 2000-01, Virginia Tech at Carnesecca Arena ).
Cincinnati is 19-5 on the season and 13-1 at home. The Bearcats received 22 votes in the most recent AP Top 25 Poll. UC is averaging 69.7 points per game. Cincinnati's defense has been its strength as it has limited opponents to just 57.9 points per game. The Bearcats' 57.5 points per game allowed as of Feb. 6 was tied for the fourth-lowest mark in the nation. Strong ball security has also been a priority for UC, which averages just 11.2 turnovers per contest. The team's 11.0-turnover average prior to its win over DePaul was tied for the 13th fewest in the nation. The team is coming off a 71-68 win at DePaul on Feb. 8.
Cincinnati's five losses have all come in BIG EAST play as the Bearcats are 6-5 in conference games. The Bearcats, who are 4-1 in BIG EAST home games, are averaging 63.7 points in conference play while holding opponents to 63.3 points. The team is 1-4 when scoring under 60 points in conference games. In four of its five losses, Cincinnati was outrebounded by its opponent.
Cincinnati has relied on the quartet of guard Dion Dixon, junior forward Yancy Gates, redshirt freshman guard Sean Kilpatrick and redshirt sophomore guard Cashmere Wright. Dixon leads the team in scoring at 11.2 points per game. The Chicago native is shooting 40.4 percent from the field (88-of-218), 33.7 percent (30-of-89) from 3-point range and 72.9 percent (62-of-85) from the free throw line. Gates is the Bearcats main inside player and has averaged 11.1 points and a team-high 6.7 rebounds. The 6-9, 265-pound forward is shooting 49.1 percent from the floor and leads the team with 30 blocks. Kilpatrick is a strong 3-point shooter and UC's primary scorer of the bench. The White Plains, N.Y., native is leads all UC non-starters with 9.9 points per contest and is shooting 39.3 percent (33-of-84) from beyond the arc. He has been in a 3-point shooting slump recently, going just 3-of-15 over the four games since Cincinnati played St. John's. Wright runs the point for the Bearcats and has averaged 9.0 points and a team-best 3.8 assists per game. He is shooting a team-best 41.3 percent (26-of-63) from beyond the arc. Like Kilpatrick, senior guard Larry Davis is also a dangerous 3-point shooter off the bench, shooting 39.7 percent (27-of-68) from long range.
St. John's senior class is 2-4 against Cincinnati. In two games, Dwight Hardy has averaged 14.5 points on 9-of-21 shooting from the field. In six games against the Bearcats, Paris Horne has averaged 9.5 points and a 1.8 assist to turnover ratio. Justin Burrell is averaging 8.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in contests against the Bearcats, while classmate D.J. Kennedy has scored 7.2 points per game and 4.3 rebounds per game against Cincinnati in his career.
In 2009-10, Cincinnati went 19-16 overall and tied for 11th in the BIG EAST after going 7-11 in conference play. The Bearcats were 2-9 on the road and 2-7 in road conference contests. The Bearcats season ended in the second round of the NIT with an 81-66 loss to Dayton. UC returned 11 letterwinners from last season, including three starters.
Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin is in his fifth season leading the Bearcats and his eighth season as a head coach. Cronin is 80-73 at Cincinnati and 149-97 overall. Cronin is 4-3 all-time against St. John's and is 2-1 on the Bearcats' home court. Cronin has rebuilt Cincinnati into one of the country's improving programs, increasing UC's season win total in each of the previous four years.
Also of note, David "Puff" Kennedy -- the father of St. John's D.J. Kennedy, like his son captured a state title at Pittsburgh's Schenley High School. Puff Kennedy then went on to play at the University of Cincinnati and is still listed among the Bearcats' all-time leaders in scoring and steals.
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 17th on STJ's all-time scoring list with 1,413 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 23 games and hitting at a 16.6 ppg clip to rank fifth among all BIG EAST players. A multi-dimensional athlete with the ability to get into the paint and draw contact, Hardy's .876 free throw percentage (99-of-113) is currently fourth in the league, and ranks 31st nationally.
Holiday Festival and Great Alaska Shootout MOP Justin Brownlee has been in the starting lineup for 21 games in 2010-11 after making three starts last season. His 12.5 ppg rank tied for 24th in the league, and his .491 field goal percentage is 16th (92nd nationally).
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 22 games. The athletic newcomer with the 40-inch vertical has averaged 6.3 points and 3.4 rebounds over eight road contests, while making 22-of-52 field goals (.423) and rejecting nearly one shot over 19.5 minutes per game.
Lightning-quick and Queens-tough, senior Malik Boothe returns as the incumbent floor general. He currently ranks in the top 25 among all BIG EAST players with a 2.7 assists per game average, and his 1.9 assist-to-turnover ratio (60 assists, 31 turnovers on the year) ranks 11th among league leaders and in the top 100 nationally. His efforts have helped the Red Storm lead the BIG EAST and rank eleventh nationally in turnover margin (+4.3).
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 138 career 3-point field goals made -- including the game-winner at Providence (Jan. 1) -- Horne currently is third all-time and is only 13 treys short of moving into first place. His 1,118 career points make him St. John's 46th member of the 1,000-point club.
Senior forward Justin Burrell has contributed in all 23 games after missing four weeks in the preseason with a fractured metacarpal (hand). The big man is averaging 7.9 ppg over the last 14 games on a 39-of-75 effort from the field (.520), and has added 4.7 rebounds per contest in 22.4 minutes.
Imposing big man Dele Coker returns to the post after leading the squad in field goal percentage (.629) and rejections (24). He tallied points against St. Bonaventure (Dec. 7), Fordham (Dec. 11), Georgetown (Jan. 3), Notre Dame (Jan. 8), Syracuse (Jan. 12) and UCLA (Feb. 5).
Local guard Malik Stith has seen time at the one and the two after dealing 37 assists and only 22 turnovers as a rookie. He is averaging 4.0 ppg this season, with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.2.
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.
St. John's remains on the road for another BIG EAST contest, playing at Marquette's Bradley Center on Tuesday (9 p.m., ESPNU).