QUEENS, N.Y. -
Winners of eight of their last 10 to remain tied for fourth in the conference standings, looking for their first 20-win campaign since 2002-03, off to their best BIG EAST start since 1999-2000 and 2-1 while playing as a ranked team for the first time in 11 seasons, head coach Steve Lavin and the No. 15/15 St. John's men's basketball team (19-10, 11-6 BIG EAST) will celebrate their 14 seniors -- 10 student-athletes and four student managers -- while playing host to USF (9-21, 3-14 BIG EAST) in Queens on Saturday. A "Carnesecca Blackout" has been scheduled, with 6,000 black t-shirts being distributed throughout the stands for a contest that will be televised in the New York Area on the MSG Network, with announcers Rich Hollenberg and John Celestand. The matchup can 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.
A STJ win would guarantee the Red Storm at least a tie for fourth place in the BIG EAST -- the highest league finish since 2002 (third). If St. John's wins and DePaul wins at Syracuse on Saturday at 4 p.m., the Red Storm would take fourth place in the league. St. John's and Syracuse wins would result in a fourth-place tie, with SU taking the No. 4 seed in next week's BIG EAST Tournament Championship, and STJ being awarded the No. 5 spot.
The Red Storm is ranked 15th in both the Associated Press Top 25 and ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, the highest since St. John's was ranked No. 9/12 on March 13, 2000, after capturing the 2000 BIG EAST Tournament title. In its 29 games in 2010-11, St. John's has faced 14 opponents that have been ranked (48 percent). The BIG EAST occupies eight of the 25 spots in both polls this week, with each team counted among the top 19.
USF is 9-21 this season and 1-11 on the road. The Bulls are 3-14 in BIG EAST play and 1-7 in road conference games. USF has averaged 61.9 points per game while opponents have averaged 65.9 points. The Bulls are shooting 41.7 percent from the field this season and 30.1 percent from 3-point range. USF has lost eight of its last 10 games and it is coming off of a 66-50 home loss to Pittsburgh on March 2.
The Bulls offense centers around Augustus Gilchrist, who leads the team with 13.1 points per game. The 6-10 junior forward has elevated his play in BIG EAST games, averaging team highs of 14.4 point and 6.4 rebounds. Sophomore guard Jawanza Poland is second on the team in scoring with 9.5 points per contest. Senior forward Jarrid Famous has utilized his 6-11 frame down low to average 8.9 points and 5.6 boards per game. Famous is shooting a team-best 50.9 percent (89-of-175) from the field. Junior guard Hugh Robertson is averaging 8.6 points and 4.4 rebounds while hitting at a 33.3 percent (28-of-84) clip from beyond the arc. Sophomore guard Shaun Noriega is the team's best 3-point shooter and has started the last three games. Noriega is averaging 5.4 points and shooting a team-best 36.6 percent (40-of-113) from long range.
The Bulls' big lineup with the Gilchrist (6-10), Famous (6-11) and Ron Anderson Jr. (6-8) has given them and advantage off the glass. USF has outrebounded its opponents in 24 of 30 games this season.
USF's lone conference road win was an 86-76 victory at DePaul on Feb. 26. The Bulls benefited from a big first half when the team took a 41-28 advantage into halftime. Gilchrist scored a career-high 32 points in the win to lead four USF players in double figures. Perhaps biggest key to victory was USF's strong 3-point shooting (7-of-12).
St. John's senior class is 3-0 against USF. The Red Storm's average margin of victory in those games is 15.7 points. Justin Burrell, D.J. Kennedy, Paris Horne and Malik Boothe have had the most success against the Bulls over the years. Burrell has averaged 13.0 points against over those three games, including a 22-point performance in St. John's 72-58 win on Feb. 2, 2008. Kennedy has averaged 12.0 points against USF and led the team with 17 points in last season's 74-58 win on Feb. 20, 2010. Horne has averaged 10.7 points against the Bulls and had his best performance in STJ's 65-48 win on Feb. 1, 2009, when he scored a team-high 19 points. Boothe has averaged 8.7 points and 5.7 assists against the Bulls. Boothe's best game in the series was as a freshman in 2008 when he scored 11 points and dished out 10 assists.
In 2009-10, USF went 20-13 and finished ninth in the BIG EAST with a 9-9 conference mark. The Bulls' season ended on March 16, 2010, in a 58-57 loss to NC State in the first round of the NIT. USF returned six letterwinners from last year's squad.
Stan Heath is in ninth season as a head coach and his fourth season leading USF. Heath has compiled an overall record of 162-152, while going 50-75 at USF. Before joining the Bulls in 2007, Heath coached at the University of Arkansas from 2002-07. His first head coaching position was at Kent State in 2001. In his career, Heath has compiled four 20-win seasons and made the NCAA Tournament three times.
Saturday's game is just the seventh time that St. John's and USF have met on the hardwood. St. John's holds a 5-1 advantage in the series and a 5-0 lead in BIG EAST play. The Red Storm is 2-0 against the Bulls at Carnesecca Arena, defeating USF 65-48 in the last meeting in Queens on Feb. 1, 2009. Last season, St. John's knocked off USF, 74-58, down in Tampa, Fla., at the Sun Dome. St. John's head coach Steve Lavin has faced the USF Bulls only one time, back when he was coaching at UCLA. Lavin's Bruins defeated USF, 103-98, in an overtime game on Dec. 23, 1999.
Kennedy, Horne, Burrell And The 1,000-Point Plateau
Red Storm swingman D.J. Kennedy became the 44th St. John's player in history to reach the 1,000-point plateau on Feb. 2, 2010, hitting the mark dead-on at 1,000. He totals 1,477 career points (13th), now in the top 15 and only eight from passing legend Bill Schaeffer (1,484, 1971-73). Kennedy is actually only 99 points away from cracking St. John's all-time top 10 (1,576), a feat he may accomplish toward the end of his senior season.
With 14 points at Fordham on Dec. 11, the 46th Red Storm player to join the elite group was senior Paris Horne. He currently has 1,477, ranking 34th and climbing.
Senior forward Justin Burrell should be the next to top the 1,000-point barrier, giving the 2010-11 Red Storm three that have risen above the plateau. He has 990 points and counting.
Lavin: One Star On The Keady Coaching Tree
St. John's special assistant/advisor Gene Keady was a decorated head coach at Purdue University for 25 seasons, from 1980-2005. He led the Boilermakers to six conference titles and seventeen NCAA Tournament appearances, including two Elite Eights, tallying 512 wins with the Boilermakers. He has mentored a number of assistant coaches who are currently enjoying success as head coaches around the college basketball landscape.
In 2010-11, former pupil and current St. John's head coach Steve Lavin is 19-10 overall, and 11-6 in the BIG EAST Conference, but all told, each of Keady's seven former assistants-now-turned-active-head-coaches are authoring fine seasons. Lavin, Kevin Stallings (No. 21/20 Vanderbilt, 21-8), Bruce Weber (Illinois, 18-12), Matt Painter (No. 6/6 Purdue, 25-5), Cuonzo Martin (rv/rv Missouri State, 23-7) Linc Darner (Florida Southern, 22-7) and Alan Major (Charlotte, 10-19) have combined for a record of 138 wins, 67 losses (.673) to date (March 4).
Lavin was an assistant coach under Keady from 1988-91. After serving as head coach at UCLA for seven seasons, Lavin returned to coach St. John's in 2010-11 and has led the Red Storm back into the national spotlight St. John's is currently ranked 15th in both the AP and Coaches Polls, the program's highest ranking since March 13, 2000.
Weber served under Keady as an assistant at Purdue for 18 seasons. Painter was a player for Gene Keady from 1989-93, starting 50 games for Purdue in his career. Stallings was an assistant under Keady for six seasons from 1982 to 1988; he also played at Purdue for three seasons, two of them under Keady. Martin was an assistant coach for Keady and Matt Painter at his alma mater from 2000-08 at Purdue. Darner played for Keady with teammates Painter and Martin from 1991-94, while Major graduated from Purdue in 1992 after serving as a student manager under Keady.
Dynamic senior swingman D.J. Kennedy paced the Red Storm in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, free throw percentage, 3-point field goal percentage and minutes played in 2009-10, and was listed second among St. John's leaders in blocked shots. Kennedy -- who 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) -- is now 13th on STJ's all-time scoring list with 1,477 career points, 11th on the all-time rebounding list with 772 boards, and 6th on the all-time steals list with 181 thefts. Those totals make him one of only three players in St. John's history to total 1,450 points, 750 rebounds and 150 steals, joining legends Malik Sealy (2,402 pts, 880 rebs, 238 stls) and George Johnson (1,763 pts, 1,240 rebs, 153 stls).
New York City playground legend and BIG EAST Player of the Year Candidate 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 the three-time BIG EAST Player of the Week is pacing the Red Storm, starting all 28 games and hitting at an 18.1 ppg clip to rank fourth among all BIG EAST players (61st nationally). A multi-dimensional athlete with the ability to get into the paint and draw contact, Hardy's .854 free throw percentage (140-of-164) is currently fifth in the league (50th nationally), and his 1.9 made 3s per game ranks 13th .
Holiday Festival and Great Alaska Shootout MOP Justin Brownlee has been in the starting lineup for 27 games in 2010-11 after making three starts last season. His 12.1 ppg rank 28th in the league, and his .489 field goal percentage is in the top 20 (90th 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 28 games. The athletic newcomer with the 40-inch vertical has averaged 4.8 points and 2.8 rebounds over 12 road contests, while making 24-of-59 field goals (.407) and rejecting five shots over 16.1 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 2.8 assists per game average, and his 1.9 assist-to-turnover ratio (79 assists, 42 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 11th nationally in turnover margin (+4.0).
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 143 career 3-point field goals made -- including the game-winner at Providence (Jan. 1) -- Horne currently is third all-time and is only eight treys short of moving into first place. His 1,161 career points make him St. John's 46th member of the 1,000-point club.
Senior forward Justin Burrell has contributed in all 29 games after missing four weeks in the preseason with a fractured metacarpal (hand). The big man has averaged 7.4 points on 51.7 percent shooting from the field across the last five games, with to go along with 6.0 rebounds (13-of-30 offensive).
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 2010 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.
Big man Dele Coker led the 2009-10 squad in field goal percentage (.629) and rejections (24). In 2010-11 he tallied points against St. Bonaventure (Dec. 7), Fordham (Dec. 11), Georgetown (Jan. 3), Notre Dame (Jan. 8), Syracuse (Jan. 12), UCLA (Feb. 5) and DePaul (Feb. 23).
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 3.4 ppg this season, with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.1.
STJ participates in the 2011 BIG EAST Championship presented by American Eagle Outfitters at Madison Square Garden March 8-12.