While the college football playoff is under the national spotlight on Saturday, the local buzz has to be around the St. John’s-Seton Hall Big East opener.
Since the two local professional basketball teams are currently under .500, the two college basketball teams have a chance to take center stage and it starts Saturday night at the Prudential Center when undefeated St. John’s takes on Seton Hall (8:30 p.m, YES Network).
The Big East opener for both of these teams has the chance to set the stage for the winner as the conference appears to be wide open for the first time in recent years. Plus, there are two stars in this game that have an opportunity to gain more local and national recognition.
For Seton Hall, look no further than Myles Powell. Powell has averaged 23.1 points per game and is shooting over 38 percent from beyond the arc. Over his last four games, he has scored 27 or more points in three of them and is 16-for-37 from downtown. Last year, he had under 20 points in both games against the Red Storm.
On the St. John’s side, Shamorie Ponds has the national acclaim as the Big East preseason Player of the Year. Ponds is averaging 19.6 points per game, but the key for him this year has been his playmaking ability in setting up his teammates. The junior is averaging six assists per night and has at least seven assists in three of his last five games.
For St. John’s, this game is their first opportunity to get a quality win on their NCAA Tournament resume. Yes, they are undefeated so far, but they do not have a win that stands out. With three road games on the schedule coming up and a home game against number 18 Marquette, they have a chance to do that.
With Ponds being the playmaker, it has allowed others to help him out in the scoring department. The Red Storm do not have that key big man with Sedee Keita being injured. However, they are able to spread the floor and have a balanced offensive mindset with others stepping up on any given night.
Two players to watch in this game are guard L.J. Figueroa and forward Marvin Clark II. In his first year with the Red Storm, Figueroa has been efficient in his scoring (55.6 percent from the floor), is shooting 44 percent from downtown, and has scored in double figures in every game since the season opener.[membership level="0"]
As for Clark, he is coming off of a breakout game against Sacred Heart on December 22. He had 23 points against the Pioneers and was 6-for-11 from three-point range. Since he has had to be the lone big man on the floor, he needs to avoid foul trouble especially as they face teams with more size. He has six or more rebounds in each of his last four games.
On the Seton Hall side, they might be 9-3, but they have some good wins out of the conference against Kentucky and Maryland. Kevin Willard’s squad has been one of the surprises in the conference so far for how well they have played after losing key players such as Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington, and Desi Rodriguez.
Powell may be the only Pirates player that averages double figures in scoring, but they have had other role players step up in big games. One player is guard Myles Cale. The sophomore had 23 points last Saturday in the road win over Maryland and is 21-for-29 from the free throw line after making 22 free throws all of last season.
On defense, the Pirates have allowed only 69.3 points per game and one of their key rebounders is Sandro Mamukelashvili. The sophomore has eight or more rebounds in four of his last five games and he could be a problem for St. John’s in trying to win the rebounding battle.
Both of these teams have a big opportunity Saturday night to get their Big East slate off to a strong start and both have the chance to be NCAA Tournament teams a couple of months from now.
It should be no surprise to anybody if this game is close as three of the last four meetings have been decided by eight points or fewer. Expect a fun battle in New Jersey. If you take a small break from watching college football, you will not be disappointed.