Back in the national rankings for the first time in 11 years, the St. John's basketball program (No. 23 in the AP poll and No. 25 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll) plays host to the DePaul Blue Demons tonight in a Big East Conference showdown at Carnesseca Arena.
In his first year back on the bench after spending several seasons as a TV analyst, head coach Steve Lavin has re-ignited the excitement around St. John's once again. Over the weekend, the Red Storm (17-9, 9-5 Big East) downed the No. 4/6 Pittsburgh Panthers at Madison Square Garden. The victory was St. John's fourth straight and its sixth in the last seven. Since the start of 2011, the Red Storm have thrilled many at MSG with wins over No. 11 Georgetown Hoyas, No. 9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, No. 1 Duke Blue Devils and No. 14/15 Connecticut Huskies.
Senior guard Dwight Hardy, who finished Saturday's contest with a team-best 19 points and made the game-winning basket with 1.2 second remaining, enters Wednesday's contest as the Red Storm's leading scorer (17.2 points per game). Justin Brownlee is second-best averaging 12.3 ppg and adding about five rebounds per game. Teammate senior forward Justin Burrell had possibly he's best effort as a Johnnie Saturday (15 points and eight rebounds off the bench).
As for the Blue Demons, a team which until recently hadn't won a conference game in more than a year, landed right back in the loss column Saturday with a 77-75 overtime loss at the No. 15/14 Villanova Wildcats. DePaul (7-19, 1-13) sit all alone at the bottom of the Big East standings entering the week. Freshman Cleveland Melvin paces the team with 17.5 ppg and 6.5 rpg.
With respect to the all-time series between these two schools on the hardwood, the Blue Demons actually lead by a count of 14-12, with the relationship dating all the way back to 1932. The most recent meeting was a thriller last March that featured the visiting Red Storm winning in triple overtime, 90-82.
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