Seton Hall entered the weekend with a one-game lead in the Big East standings and a golden opportunity to stay ahead of the field in the race for a conference title. But if the No. 16 Pirates get caught looking ahead to a daunting stretch against Marquette, Villanova and Creighton to end the regular season, St. John’s is a team that could ruin their weekend and make those last three games must-wins.
The Red Storm (14-12, 3-10 Big East) have struggled in conference play, but their record is a bit deceptive. St. John’s is 0-5 in Big East games decided by five points or less. If Mike Anderson’s club had won even just two or three of those tight contests, it would be in the thick of the conference standings as the season’s final two weeks loom.
St. John’s: One of the Red Storm’s close losses came against Seton Hall on Jan. 18, an 82-79 defeat at Madison Square Garden. Back then, St. John’s still had senior guard and second-leading scorer Mustapha Heron, who has since been lost — likely for the season — to an ankle injury. Heron led the upset attempt with 18 points for St. John’s. The Red Storm made just 4 of 14 3-pointers in that game but have become increasingly reliant on 3-pointers since. St. John’s made 13 of 32 3-pointers in a win over DePaul on Jan. 25 and hit 9 of 21 in.a win over Providence without Heron last week. Sophomore forward Marcellus Earlington has also emerged to fill the scoring void left by Heron. He is averaging 18 points and eight rebounds over his last three games.
Seton Hall: Seton Hall looked like it was running away with the Big East until last week, when it lost to Creighton and Providence. The Pirates got back on track Wednesday with a 74-72 victory over Butler. But that win required a Sandro Mamukelashvili buzzer-beater. In short, the Pirates are not clicking quite like they were during a 10-game winning streak earlier this season that included a victory over Big Ten-leader Maryland. Coach Kevin Willard pointed to “bad attitudes” after the loss to Providence. But Seton Hall still possesses what is by many metrics the best defense in the Big East. And it has a national player of the year candidate in Myles Powell, who scored 23 points in the second half the last times these teams met.
Game prediction, pick
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Latest odds via SportsLine: Seton Hall -11.5
Playing at home against St. John’s is the perfect opportunity for Seton Hall to get back on track. Look for the Pirates to control the game with defense and not allow the Red Storm to get hot from the 3-point line. Pick: Seton Hall -11.5