No team in the country has beaten more Top 25 teams than St. John’s. The Red Storm, however, must focus on beating two lesser opponents this week to earn a double-bye in the Big East tournament.
It’s been 13 years since St. John’s won a road game against Seton Hall, and the No. 15 Red Storm will look to end that streak Thursday night by posting their seventh straight win.
St. John’s (19-9, 11-5) has won six in a row in Big East play for the first time since a seven-game run Feb. 5-29, 2000. The Red Storm’s six wins over ranked teams match the totals by No. 7 Texas, No. 8 Notre Dame, No. 11 Louisville and No. 12 Syracuse for the most in the country.
The Red Storm can clinch a top-four finish in the Big East and a double-bye in next week’s conference tournament by beating two of the league’s worst teams this week in Seton Hall (11-17, 5-11) and South Florida.
“These games are actually harder,” senior forward Justin Burrell insisted. “If you see throughout college basketball when a team that, for the lack of a better word, is supposed to win the game, if you see those games are sometimes close, because teams overlook them, or don’t come out with the same intensity.”
Another big effort by leading scorer Dwight Hardy would help St. John’s avoid a letdown. Hardy is averaging 25.5 points on 51.7 percent shooting during this win streak to become a front-runner for Big East player of the year honors.
The senior guard scored a career-high 34 points in Saturday’s 81-68 win at then-No. 15 Villanova.
“When I don’t hesitate on the court, I can be a very dangerous player,” said Hardy, 18 of 34 from 3-point range over the last six games. “I’m in a bit of a groove right now and I want to keep it going.”
D.J. Kennedy has posted three of his four double-doubles in this win streak, averaging 12.2 points and 7.3 boards.
The Red Storm have dropped their last six visits to Seton Hall since a 64-60 victory Feb. 15, 1998. The Pirates have won seven of the last 10 meetings overall.
St. John’s coach Steve Lavin has cited those facts as well as the play of Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell and Herb Pope as concerns. Hazell averages a team-high 18.5 points and Pope a team-best 8.2 rebounds.
“Pope is as dangerous a front-line player in terms of versatility and creating matchup problems for opponents as there is in the league.” Lavin said. “And Hazell is as prolific a scorer as there is in the country.”
It’s unclear how effective Pope will be after he made 1 of 9 shots for four points and grabbed four rebounds while being under the weather in Seton Hall’s third straight loss Saturday, 60-48 to the Fighting Irish.
“Herb has the flu, so the fact that he played 29 minutes was great,” coach Kevin Willard said. “He would have played more (if he was healthy).”
Point guard Jordan Theodore is expected to play despite Essex County prosecutors weighing a potential gun charge against him from an incident last month following the dismissals of Keon Lawrence and Jamel Jackson from the team.
Theodore is second on the team in scoring at 10.7 points per game but has been held to nine combined in his last two.
Seton Hall is the worst shooting team in the Big East at 40.5 percent, and one of the country’s worst 3-point shooting teams at 28.4 percent.
The Pirates are 1-8 against Top 25 teams.