Big East Tournament Live Blog: St. John’s v. Pitt at Madison Square Garden

By Greg Trietley

The Pitt men’s basketball team takes on the St. John’s Red Storm today at 2 p.m. in the opening round of the Big East tournament. The Panthers beat the Red Strom last Wednesday, 89-69, at the Petersen Events Center, although they struggled against St. John’s press (as they so often do). They finished with 16 turnovers.

Let’s see what adjustments both sides make today in what will be the last shot at the NCAA Tournament for both teams—they need to win out, five wins in five days, to earn an automatic bid. Pitt probably needs a win or two this week just to secure an NIT bid.

Jamie Dixon has had nearly a week to drill into his players how to beat the press, while St. John’s could use a better defensive effort than what it showed last week. Pitt shot 63.3 percent against the Red Storm six days ago.

The win against St. John’s, though, is Pitt’s only victory since early February. The Panthers have lost six of seven, the most recent loss at Connecticut on Saturday.

St. John’s enters today’s game on a two-game losing streak. The Red Storm lost to Rutgers Saturday, 61-58, which led to today’s match-up against the Panthers (had St. John’s won, Pitt would have played Rutgers).

Here’s how the No. 13 seed Pitt matches up with No. 12 seed St. John’s:

Overall record

Pitt: 16-15

St. John’s: 13-18

Conference record

Pitt: 5-13

St. John’s: 6-12

Points per game (conference rank)

Pitt: 69.1 (t-9th)

St. John’s: 66.8 (14th)

Points allowed per game

Pitt: 66.5 (12th)

St. John’s: 70.8 (14th)

Rebounding margin

Pitt: +7.7 (1st)

St. John’s: -3.8 (15th)

Leading scorer

Pitt: senior guard Ashton Gibbs, 15.4 ppg

St. John’s: freshman guard D’Angelo Harrison, 17.0 ppg

Top playmaker

Pitt: junior guard Tray Woodall, 6.1 apg

St. John’s: freshman guard Phil Greene, 2.9 apg

Top rebounder

Pitt: senior forward Nasir Robinson, 6.6 rpg

St. John’s: freshman forward Moe Harkless, 8.6 rpg

Best win

Pitt: v. Georgetown, 72-60, on Jan. 28

St. John’s: v. Notre Dame, 61-58, on Feb. 25

Worst loss

Pitt: at DePaul, 84-81, on Jan. 5

St. John’s: v. Northeastern, 78-64, on Nov. 26

The Red Storm is by far the youngest team in the Big East, and it shows in its play. Sometimes St. John’s can dominate with its young talent, as seen in the win against Notre Dame, but other times the Red Storm plays, well, like inexperienced freshmen. You never know which St. John’s will show up.

The game today is being played 25 minutes from St. John’s campus and in a building that hosted them nine times this season (the Red Storm in those games: 4-5). Last year, though, the traveling Syracuse crowd dwarfed the local Red Storm fan base at Madison Square Garden when the two schools played in the Big East tournament, so it’s tough to say if the crowd will be pro-Pitt, pro-St. John’s or indifferent Connecticut fans. The No. 9 seed Huskies play No. 16 DePaul at noon.

The winner of this game plays No. 5 seed Georgetown tomorrow afternoon. The winner of that game then plays No.4 seed Cincinnati Thursday afternoon, and then the winner of that game… well that’s not get ahead of ourselves. Neither Pitt nor St. John’s won five Big East games in a row this year. Here’s my pictorial bracket of predictions, if you’re interested. I was on a bus for eight hours through the night and got bored.

And with a great segue, here’s some photos of the trip. The four college students that were in Oakland with me Monday know that the place is a ghost town these days. I was nearly hit with tumbleweed.