SAN FRANCISCO -
Following a 4-0 Queens homestand, Steve Lavin and his young St. John's basketball team (6-2) travel nearly 3,000 miles for their second road matchup of the season. The Red Storm takes on the USF Dons (4-1) of the WestCoast Conference in Lavin's hometown of San Francisco, on a night where Lavin's father, USF alum and basketball Hall of Famer Cap Lavin, among others, will be honored by their alma mater. The contest will be carried live in the New York area on SNY, and nationally on the ESPN3 platform, with announcers Barry Tompkins and Dan Belluomini. 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.
The Last Meeting
December 31, 2000
Lavin returns 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 recruiting 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 is 29-16 at St. John's.
According to RPIRankings.com (Dec. 4), St. John's owns a RPI of 28, with a strength of schedule of 34 and non-conference SOS of 36 (5-0 home; 1-0 road at Charleston on Nov. 15; 0-2 neutral).
St. John's ratcheted up both the defensive and rebounding efforts in the second half and D'Angelo Harrison scored a game-high 21 points as the Red Storm won its fourth-straight game by turning a 12-point halftime deficit into a 57-49 win against NJIT at Carnesecca Arena on Saturday. JaKarr Sampson posted his first-career double-double with 15 points and 17 rebounds, the most boards by a Red Storm player since Lamont Hamilton grabbed 17 against Niagara on Nov. 26, 2005. Chris Obekpa matched a career-high with eight points, pulled down six rebounds and also blocked five shots to pace a defensive team effort that matched a season-high with 12 blocks.
This will be the seventh all-time meeting between the two historic programs, with the Red Storm holding a 4-2 edge in the series. The last meeting between the two schools took place on Dec. 30, 2000, at Madison Square Garden with St. John's pulling out a 92-77 victory.
In addition to Bay Area-native Lavin, the Red Storm has many ties to San Francisco. Assistant coach Rico Hines was an assistant under Don Nelson with Golden State from 2006-10. Hall of Famer Chris Mullin was a five-time NBA All-Star during a lengthy Warriors' career (1985-97, 2000-01) before becoming a longtime executive, and Mark Jackson is Golden State's current head coach.
Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team selection D'Angelo Harrison is currently the league's second-leading scorer at 21.8 points per game, and his 83.7 percent success rate at the free throw line ranks tied for sixth among all BIG EAST players. The three-time BIG EAST Honor Roll member's 2.5 made 3-pointers per game are fifth in the conference, he holds the team lead and is listed 11th in the league with a 1.9 steals per game average, and his 33.9 minutes per game rank 10th in the conference. He is currently firing at a 45.4 percent clip from the field and a 37.7 mark from beyond the arc. He has reached the 20-point plateau in seven of St. John's first eight games.
Second-year guard Phil Greene IV is making an early run as the BIG EAST's Most Improved Player. After averaging 7.6 ppg as a freshman, he is currently firing at a 12.0 ppg clip (30th in the league) and showing his ability as a dynamic scorer and playmaker. His 3.9 assists per game rank tied for 15th among all BIG EAST players and his 1.9 assist-to-turnover ratio is listed 10th.
Sophomore swingman Amir Garrett closed out 2011-12 with 14-straight starts as part of the "Fresh Five." Garrett spent the offseason in professional baseball as a left-handed pitcher within the Cincinnati Reds minor league system. This season he is averaging 7.3 ppg and 6.1 rebounds with a team-leading .558 field goal percentage that ranks 10th in the BIG EAST.
Motor City sophomore Sir'Dominic Pointer averaged 6.6 ppg in 2011-12 and his 4.6 rebounds per game average ranked fourth on the team. The Red Storm's best on-ball defender is 16th in the BIG EAST with a 1.6 steals per game average, and recently scored a season-high 15 points with eight boards, six assists, three blocks and two steals against Florida Gulf Coast (Nov. 24).
The No. 31 overall prospect in the Class of 2011, JaKarr Sampson has begun to display his prowess with 7.0 rpg to go along with 12.5 ppg and a pair of preseason dunks that were selected as ESPN SportsCenter Top 10 plays. Sampson's rebounding and scoring averages rank tied for 11th and 27th, respectively, among all BIG EAST players, and his 1.8 rejections are seventh.
A game-changing shotblocker who craves defense, 6-9 Chris Obekpa averaged 13.0 rebounds and 9.0 blocks per game as a high school senior on Long Island. The Nigerian native with the 7-5 wingspan led STJ with a school-record eight blocked shots in the victory vs. Detroit (Nov. 13), and is averaging a BIG EAST-leading 4.4 rejections per contest, good for fourth in the nation.
Athletic wing Felix Balamou earned his first start vs. Florida Gulf Coast (Nov. 24) and will continue to see game action. In the last six games he has averaged 5.2 ppg, connecting on 12-of-22 field goals (.545) while also contributing 2.0 rpg and 1.2 bpg.
The final member of Lavin's eight-man recruiting class, freshman Christian Jones was the surprise of the preseason. He played one postgraduate year for IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., averaging 12.0 points and 5.0 rebounds. In exhibition play he averaged 12.5 ppg on 66.7 percent shooting with 8.5 rebounds.
JUCO transfer Orlando Sanchez will not participate Tuesday as he awaits an eligibility ruling from the NCAA. Texas A&M transfer Jamal Branch is eligible for game participation as early as Dec. 16, 2012. Harvard transfer Max Hooper is eligible for game participation in 2013-14 season. All are eligible to participate in team activities, including practices and intrasquad scrimmages.
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 consideration for a redshirt season and should not see game action. Achiuwa, a member of St. John's University's prestigious President's Society, is on track to graduate with a degree in administrative studies and could complete Master's degree requirements by the end of his 2013-14 redshirt season.
STJ makes its debut at the newly-renovated "World's Most Famous Arena" on Saturday, Dec. 8, as the Madison Square Garden Holiday Festival again takes the form of a one-day doubleheader featuring local squads. St. John's and Fordham tip things off at 7 p.m., followed by the 9:30 p.m. nightcap pitting Rutgers against Iona.
Scouting San Francisco
San Francisco comes into Tuesday's matchup with a 4-1 record and an unblemished 3-0 mark at War Memorial Gymnasium. After falling in their season opener against Stanford, the Dons have rattled off four-straight wins, all of which have come by double digits. So far on the season, USF been lighting it up from deep, connecting on 42.5 percent of treys while also banging on the boards to outrebound opponents by an average of 11.4 rebounds per contest. San Francisco has shot better than 50 percent from the field in each of its last three games.
The Dons have three players averaging double-figure scoring, led by junior guard De'End Parker, who is fourth in the West Coast Conference at 19.4 points per game. Parker is shooting 70.2 percent from behind the arc on the young season, while also making a team-high 12 three-pointers. Junior forward Cole Dickerson leads the nation in rebounding, pulling down 15 boards per game, and was named the WCC's Player of the Week on Monday following a 19-point, 20-rebound performance against Montana.
Rex Walters is in his fifth season at the helm in San Francisco, posting a 66-67 record during that time period and a 97-100 record over his complete seven-year coaching career. Last season, Walters led the Dons to a 20-14 record, marking the first time that the storied program had reached the 20-win plateau since the 1981-82 season. Outside shooting has become a trademark of USF over Walters' tenure, as the 2010-11 squad set a record for three-point field goals made, only to broken by the 2011-12 squad, who connected on 239 shots from behind the arc.