Beyond the Arc: Gameday St. John's

THE CONTENTS: No. 9 Duke goes out of conference and into the Big Apple to battle St. John's at 7 p.m. at the World's Most Famous Arena. You can see the game with Brent Musberger and Bob Knight on ESPN and hear it on 620 AM.

brittonTHE EXPOSITION: The Blue Devils (2005) are coming off their fourth loss in six games and their worst--an 80-74 defeat at Boston College. Duke needs to straighten things out before hosting No. 8 Wake Forest this Sunday.

The Red Storm (12-13) has dipped under .500 with four consecutive losses--the last coming at Marquette. St. John's has just three wins in the Big East, but it has played some of the top teams tightly. One of those three wins did come against Notre Dame, when we all thought the Irish were good.

Duke leads the all-time series over St. John's 12-5, including five in a row.

THE PROTAGONISTS: This, unfortunately, is not the kind of game you're going to learn a ton about the Blue Devils' long-term chances in March. Instead, it's the kind of game where you're going to make sure this isn't a catastrophic collapse.

The BC loss on Sunday was the worst of the season because it showed that this team hasn't been able to bounce back from the Clemson debacle. On the road, in a barely-hostile environment (oh no, it's Silvio Conte Forum!), the Blue Devils simply couldn't get the job done late in the game against a team that isn't as talented as them. That's what was so disconcerting.

Tonight, the atmosphere will be even less threatening, and the conditions are ripe for Duke's defense to get back on track (last time these two teams met at the Garden, St. John's had 10 points in the first half).

THE ANTAGONISTS: It's been a dark time in the St. John's program for nearly a decade (as detailed thoroughly here by former Chronicler Seth Davis), with rape allegations, rumors of paying players and coaching changes all complementing some pretty poor play on the floor. This season, the Red Storm's hopes were dashed early, when the team's best player, Anthony Mason, Jr., suffered a season-ending injury.

That said, the Johnnies do still have some talent. Paris Horne and D.J. Kennedy are solid wings, Malik Boothe is a short but sound point guard and Sean Evans has had some big games in the post. All in all, though, it's not the kind of team that can win day in and day out in this Big East.

THE CONFLICT: Are the Blue Devils still a team that can flat-out dominate an inferior opponent?


ISN'T THAT SOME SORT OF JOURNALISTIC CONFLICT?: Yeah, but the ESPN ombudsman has bigger issues on her plate.

SO WHY DOES DUKE ALWAYS PLAY ST. JOHN'S?: It works out well. Duke hits February slide, has game with Red Storm to bounce back, at least briefly.

WHAT'S THE REAL REASON?: Come on, it's the ACC! It's the Big East! The second-place team taking on the 13th-place team! Nothing short of conference supremacy is on the line tonight!

WHAT'S THE COOLEST STAT ASSOCIATED WITH ST. JOHN'S BASKETBALL?: The Red Storm has scored the exact same number of points it has allowed this season.

AND THE SECOND COOLEST?: A win tonight would give the Blue Devils as many wins at Madison Square Garden this season as St. John's, with three apiece.

SIMPLEST PROP BET OF THE EVENING: Will Duke score more points than the 71 Penn State and Illinois combined for last night?

IS THIS A TRAP GAME?: An out-of-conference midweek night game before a conference showdown? Sure, sounds like it. St. John's better not be looking ahead to Seton Hall if it hopes to survive tonight.

TIM'S FAVORITE PLAYER IN ST. JOHN'S HISTORY IS...: This is a loaded category since I really liked the late '90s Johnnies. Guys like Felipe Lopez, Zendon Hamilton, Erick Barkley, Bootsy Thornton, Ron Artest, Lavar Postell...they had some really good teams in 1999 and 2000. BUT, it's impossible to go against the old-school choice and arguably the program's best player: Christopher Mullin.

TIM'S FAVORITE ST. JOHN'S MEMORY: I picked the Red Storm to win the national title as a 2-seed in 2000. Although St. John's lost in the second round to an upstart program in Spokane led by Richie Frahm and Casey Calvary (the Zags), it would have been far more embarrassing had they not come back in the final minute in the first round game against Northern Arizona--then coached by Ben Howland. The 15th-seeded Lumberjacks had the Red Storm on the ropes late, but a Postell three-point play and Barkley steal in the final 30 seconds sealed a Duke-Belmont-esque victory. (For the record, I alluded to this game as the "Worst-Case Scenario" for the Blue Devils prior to that game against the Bruins.)

THE DENOUEMENT: I don't expect this to be a pretty game; Duke's contests with the Red Storm haven't been in a long time. Expect the defense to return to form, and St. John's to struggle offensively much of the night. I don't think the Blue Devils' offense explodes, but it gets the job done.

THE VERDICT: Duke 74-56.


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