The 2017-18 Big East season starts for St. John’s at Carnesecca Arena tonight against a Providence squad that comes to Queens with its fair share of injuries.
Big East play starts Thursday night for St. John’s (10-2) at Carnesecca Arena as they will host the Providence Friars (9-4). You can watch the game at 7 p.m ET on the YES Network. In the Chris Mullin era, Providence is 3-1 against the Red Storm, but St. John’s split the two meetings last year.
At one point this season, Providence was 6-1 and looking like an NCAA Tournament team. But the Friars will come into tonight’s game having gone 3-3 in their last six games and two of those wins were against Brown (in overtime) and Stony Brook (62-60).
The problem for Ed Cooley’s squad has been injuries. Forward Emmit Holt has yet to play due to an abdominal issue, while star guard Kyron Cartwright and forward Alpha Diallo have been dealing with ankle injuries. Cooley gave an update on their status Tuesday during a conference call, courtesy of Fox Sports’ John Fanta:
Providence has faced a lot of adversity with injuries. Cooley said he'll evaluate Cartwright and Diallo today in regards to their status on Thursday for St. John's. https://t.co/TJMLmFfKaK
— John Fanta (@John_Fanta) December 26, 2017
Cartwright is going to be a key for Providence if they want to make the NCAA Tournament. In the preseason, he was on the All-Big East second team along with teammate Rodney Bullock and St. John’s guard Shamorie Ponds. While he has only averaged eight points per game, he is second in the Big East in assists per game (5.7).
At Big East Media Day back in October, I talked with Cartwright about what it’s like when Providence faces St. John’s. He told me that it’s “always been a chippy game.” Now, in the Big East, that is to be expected since you play each team twice and potentially a third time in the conference tournament.
Injuries will be a factor for both sides in this game. There is no definite status as to whether or not Marcus LoVett will play. He has missed the last five games with a knee injury and the Red Storm could use his all-around game. But, it sounds like his return won’t be tonight, according to the New York Post‘s Zach Brazillier:
A decision on St Johns guard Marcus LoVett will be made at shootaround tomorrow, per source. Likely he’ll remain out. #sjubb
— Zach Braziller (@NYPost_Brazille) December 27, 2017
If LoVett doesn’t play, then Justin Simon will be a player to watch in his first Big East game. Simon has scored in double figures in four of his last five games, but his defense will be important as he will try to force turnovers against a team that averages close to 14 turnovers per game.
As for Bullock, the senior forward is averaging near 17 points per game and has scored 57 points in the last two games against Houston and Sacred Heart respectively. Also, he is the team’s leading rebounder (6.7 per game).
One other Providence player to watch is senior guard Jalen Lindsey. When you watch St. John’s, they tend to allow a lot of open three-point shots. That could be their downfall in this game as Lindsey is shooting 49 percent from downtown (29-for-59). He has drained at least a trio of trifectas in four of his last five games.
One thing is for sure: Points will be at a premium in this game. In the non-conference portion of the season, these two teams were both in the bottom three in the league in field goal percentage. Providence had the better numbers (46 percent to 41 percent).
With that being the case, the X-Factor for St. John’s in this game is Marvin Clark II. When Clark II is on the floor, he can make a difference both inside and outside the arc. But, foul trouble will be a factor in this game and Clark II tends to get into foul trouble early in games.
Depending on who plays in tonight’s game could determine the winner. For St. John’s, it’s a chance to get the Big East slate started on a great note before playing back-to-back road games against ranked opponents in #23 Seton Hall and #25 Creighton, who face each other Thursday night.