By Kevin Sweeney
Today at Mohegan Sun Arena, we’ll have a doubleheader with big implications for the rest of the season. With non-conference play wrapping up, teams are looking to add that extra quality win to their resume that will look good come Selection Sunday. The event tips off at 4:30 eastern with St. John’s taking on St. Joe’s and continues at 7pm with Houston taking on Providence. I’ll be there covering all the action, with live tweets (@CBB_Central) and game stories. First though, we’ll preview the action ahead:
St. John’s vs St. Joe’s
A much-improved St. John’s team under Chris Mullin has gotten off to a 9-2 start behind a stout defense and excellent guard play, but they’ll be tested by a St. Joe’s team that has the talent to give the Johnnies all they can handle. Both teams will be without key pieces, as sophomore guard Marcus LoVett will sit for the Red Storm and sophomore wing Charlie Brown remains out for the Hawks. However, what will make this matchup so fun is the showdown between 2 of the better scoring guards in the country in Shamorie Ponds and Shavar Newkirk, a pair of New York City natives who are elite at getting their own shot and creating for others.
Matchup to Watch: Turnover Battle
St. John’s is one of the best teams in the nation at forcing turnovers, ranking 4th nationally by turning over their opponents 19.2 times per contest. However, St. Joe’s is elite at taking care of the ball, as they are 2nd in the country in ball security with just 8.7 turnovers per game. The Hawks will have to continue to take care of the ball and not give the Johnnies easy buckets in transition if they want to pull the upset.
Prediction: St. John’s 75, St. Joe’s 63
Providence vs Houston
The Friars have struggled so far this season, though they’ve been able to avoid resume-crushing losses in tight contests with Belmont, Rider, and Stony Brook. However, in no way is this team playing its basketball, and it enters today’s game likely without star senior point guard Kyron Cartwright and defensive specialist Maliek White due to injuries. Talented wing Alpha Diallo also isn’t healthy and is questionable for today’s action. Still, if the Friars could find a way to knock off a talented Houston club tonight, it would be a big boost of confidence and more importantly, a big boost to their resume come March. The Cougars come in at 9-2 behind one of the best guards in the country in Rob Gray. Kelvin Sampson’s team has been hot of late, ranking 5th in the country in momentum per Haslametrics.com. With an at-large resume that already features wins over Wake Forest and Arkansas, a win today would be yet another feather in the caps of the Cougars in their hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010 and just the second time since 1992.
Matchup to Watch: 3-Point Shooting
Both teams are among the most efficient outside shooting clubs in the country, with Houston shooting 42.4% (11th nationally) from beyond the arc and Providence connecting on 40.8% (24th nationally) of their triples. Both also are in the top 100 nationally in defending the 3. Either team shutting down their opponent’s 3-point attack would be huge for their chances.
Prediction: Houston 79, Providence 70
Be sure to follow me on Twitter (handle is @CBB_Central) for coverage from what should be a great day of college hoops at Mohegan Sun Arena.