The St. John's University basketball program faces its toughest challenge of its 2011-12 campaign Thursday night, as the Red Storm travel to the the University of Kentucky in a Big East/SEC Challenge game at Rupp Arena (7:30 p.m. on ESPN2). The Wildcats (6-0), who are ranked No. 1 in both the AP Poll and the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll, enter the contest with probably the most talented team in the country and will be trying to protect a 36-game home winning streak. Meanwhile, St. John's (4-3) will be trying to rebound from a tough loss Saturday to Northwestern University, 78-64, without its head coach Steve Lavin, who's recovering from prostate cancer surgery.
Last season, under the leadership of Lavin, point guard Dwight Hardy and nine other seniors, the Johnnies knocked off four top-10 programs. However, this year's St. John's basketball team is a bit different than last year's, as three freshmen -- Moe Harkless, D'Angelo Harrison and Phil Greene -- a sophomore, Nurideen Lindsey, and a JUCO transfer, God'sgift Achiuwa, are slated to start for the Red Storm. So far this season, the Johnnies are 0-2 against top-25 programs, while last season St. John's knocked off six of its 15 opponents that were ranked in the top 25.
"The Red Storm won't win without some contribution from their transition game. Turnovers will help generate easy shots for the Johnnies, who don't have reliable range on their shots yet. Turnovers will also keep the Wildcats from putting up shots and getting second chance points on the Red Storm, who have well-known rebounding issues."
Statistically, Lindsey (14.4 points per game), Harrison (14.3) and Harkless (14.1) are St. John's top scorers, respectively. Harkless leads the team in rebounding averaging at 6.7 per game, while Achiuwa isn't too far behind with 6.6.
As for the unbeaten Wildcats who're led by the head coach John Calipari, they have beaten opponents by an average of 30 points per game and enter the contest as 22-point favorites. Sophomore guard Doron Lamb, a Queens, NY native, leads the team in scoring with 14.2. Meanwhile, freshman forward Anthony Davis has been a shot-blocking machine for the Wildcats averaging 4.3 per game.
Overall, Kentucky hasn't allowed more than 67 points this season and has netted 85-plus points in four of its first six games. The Wildcat's biggest victory of the year was a 75-65 victory over the University of Kansas, Nov. 15. At the time, the Jayhawks were ranked No. 11 in the AP Poll and No. 12 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll.