Two Big East Conference college basketball programs, the St. John's Red Storm and Rutgers Scarlet Knights, meet in unfamiliar territory Wednesday afternoon in the second round of the 2011 Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden (2 p.m. on ESPN). The No. 5-seeded Red Storm (ranked No. 17 in the AP poll and No. 18 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll) are considered the favorite in a postseason contest held at their home court. Meanwhile, No. 14 Rutgers earned its first Big East Tournament victory since 2006 Tuesday with a first-round, overtime triumph, 76-70, over New Jersey state, Seton Hall Pirates.
The Red Storm (20-10) finished the Big East regular season in a tie for third place in the Big East standings, but lost head-to-head tiebreakers to the Syracuse Orange and Louisville Cardinals, who each earned double-byes. Despite the last-season disappointment, which featured a 84-70 loss to Seton Hall on March 3, the Johnnies have nothing to be ashamed of. Last season, St. John's finished 13th in the conference standings and didn't make the NCAA Tournament. This season, the Red Storm are a lock for a NCAA Tournament bid -- experts are predicting that St. John's will receive a No. 4 seed -- and have the goods to win their first Big East Tournament title since 2000.
Senior point guard Dwight Hardy is St. John's leading scoring. Hardy, who averaged 24.9 point per game in St. John's final ten games, had an outstanding end to the regular season. His performance was rewarded with the Big East Most Improved Player award and the SB Nation New York MVP honor. Senior forward Justin Brownlee is the Red Storm's second-best scorer (12.1 ppg) and rebounder (5.2).
|2010 - Dwight Hardy||30||33.9||5.7||12.5||45.2||1.9||5.3||35.8||4.7||5.6||84.4||0.8||2.2||3.0||1.9||2.1||1.4||0.1||1.8||17.9|
On Tuesday, the Scarlet Knights senior forward Jonathan Mitchell netted eight of his team-best 25 points in the OT victory. Mitchell is Rutgers top scorer (14.6 ppg) and second-best rebounder (5.6 rpg), but its been the immediate impact of freshman forward Gilvydas Biruta (9.6 ppg and 5.6 rpg) that has helped the Scarlet Knights compete in the first year of head coach Mike Rice.
Rice, a fiery leader, was the former head coach of Robert Morris University, who almost beat No. 2-seeded Villanova Wildcats in overtime of last year's NCAA Tournament.