There's a trend being set by the St. John's basketball program, winning. That's something Red Storm fans are just starting to get used to and a Big East Conference victory over No. 4 Pittsburgh Panthers Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden (noon on ESPN) would solidify that their men's college hoops team is for real.
St. John's (16-9, 8-5) has won six of its last eight games, including victories over No. 5 Duke Blue Devils, Jan. 30, and the Connecticut Huskies (No. 12 in the AP poll and No. 13 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll). Pittsburgh (24-2, 12-1), winners of fight straight, has been the most flawless squad in the Big East. Currently, the Panthers have a two-game advantage over second place Notre Dame Fighting Irish (21-4, 10-3) in the league standings .
In St. John's last four games, senior point guard Dwight Hard averaged 27.8 points per game. Hardy, who earned his second Big East Player Of The Week honor on Monday, is quickly becoming a Big East Player Of The Year candidate for the Red Storm, who are looking to crack the Top 25 rankings for the first time since 2000. Last week, St. John's earned a few votes in both the AP poll and USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll, but didn't crack the Top 25. A victory Saturday against another Top 5 team should solidify St. John's place in next Monday's polls.
The Panthers only conference loss came against Notre Dame, Jan. 24. Before that stumble, Pittsburgh had strung together nine consecutive victories and were ranked No. 2 in the nation by both polls -- the Panthers first loss of the season came against the Tennessee Volunteers, Dec. 11.
As of Saturday, Pittsburgh is first in the conference in rebounds per game (41.3), third in field goal percentage (.525) and fourth in ppg (76.2). Junior guard Ashton Gibbs is the team's leading scorer with 16.3 ppg and best 3-point shooter (.463 percent). Teammate senior guard Brad Wanamaker is the second-best scorer (12.6 ppg), while senior center Gary McGhee is Pitt's inside presence (8 rebounds and 22.5 minutes per game).