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College Hoops Pick
When all is said and done, St. John's actually isn't out of the tournament picture yet. Some may look at that statement and dismiss it, but the numbers are proof for the Red Storm.
They have a Top 20 strength of schedule, which is what usually happens in the Big East. They have wins over Notre Dame, Connecticut and at Cincinnati. While none of those are amazing, a win in this Pittsburgh game and either a road win at Notre Dame or against Marquette will have voters questioning where to place St. John's. Obviously, if they don't win any games in the conference tournament, none of this will mean anything, but one thing right now is for sure, they aren't out of the picture yet.
As for the Panthers, they are currently ranked in the AP Top 25, but will likely fall out after their early week home loss to Notre Dame. Things were looking great for Pittsburgh after their win at Cincinnati, yet two losses later and they have the same conference record as St. John's. Now, Pittsburgh has to go on the road which is never easy in the Big East.
The Red Storm are very young and have a bright future ahead of them, but that's not going to stop them from getting to the tournament this year. D'Angelo Harrison is once again their leading scorer and combined with freshman Jakarr Sampson, the duo can score on any defense. Even though Harrison is averaging close to four points more on the season, Sampson has stepped up in Big East play and been a bigger factor, especially during their five-game win streak at the end of January. Phil Greene IV is another player that's stepped up hitting double-digits in six straight games while averaging under 10 points for the season. Chris Obekpa continues to be the beast in the middle, averaging 4.2 blocks per game. His defense down low will be important when playing Pittsburgh's duo of Steven Adams and Talib Zanna.
Whereas St. John's only goes about six or seven players deep every game, Pittsburgh will usually have nine guys getting at least 10 minutes of court time. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn't let the players get a rhythm. It didn't work in their last game against Notre Dame which saw the Panthers only score 42 points without hitting a three-pointer. Senior guard Tray Woodall had one of his usual games with a team-high 11 points, but no one else could do anything. Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson, their second and third leading scorers only combined for six points. Patterson is the more important of the two and will need to find his shot in this game. The same goes for Woodall as the Red Storm don't make it easy for opponents to drive on them.
Without any big scorers on their team, Pittsburgh plays very balanced basketball. Being at Madison Square Garden the Red Storm aren't exactly underdogs. With Harrison and Sampson leading the way, Pittsburgh will have to show people they can beat quality teams on the road. If not, say goodbye to a higher seed.
Predicted Score - Pitt 54 St Johns 53
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