The Cincinnati Bearcats (16-7 6-4) travel to Madison Square Garden looking to avenge a 57-55 defeat on January 7th at the hands of the St John's Red Storm (10-13 4-7)
The contest marks the first mirror game on the Big East schedule for both teams, and gives head coach Mick Cronin's team a shot at redemption after the Red Storm came into 5/3rd Arena and handed the Cats their first Big East loss of the season.
“As a coach you take every advantage you can get,” Cronin said. “When you have a team in the situation where they've lost to a team previously, from a coaching standpoint motivation-ally you have an advantage.”
Sophomore guard Sean Kilpatrick, who was at one point verbally committed to his home town school, thought his team overlooked the talented, but young St John's squad the first time around.
“We've got to go in their not taking them light.” said Kilpatrick. “I think that's what we did the first time.”
Fellow sophomore forward Justin Jackson has been looking forward to correcting the mistakes made a month ago. After a career high 14 points against DePaul, he quickly turned his focus to correcting what went wrong the first time around.
“It's a different mindset for everyone,” Jackson said. “We feel like we didn't play up to our potential.”
If the Bearcats are going to play to their potential and pick up their 7th Big East win, they will need to start solving the Red Storm match up zone defense that has given them fits in each of the 3 meetings over the last two seasons.
For Cronin the answer to solving the offensive woes against the zone is to not settle for contested shots early in the possession, and to instead get better decision making from his guards by identifying where the zone can be exploited.
Part of the guards playing well is throwing the ball inside when we're open on the interior,” said Cronin. “That's one area where I think we struggled against St John's zone the last time we've played them. That's where we've struggled against zones has been our passing.”
Kilpatrick echoed the sentiments of his coach when asked why the offense has sputtered not only in the 55-point performance against St John's, but also against Syracuse (53) and Rutgers (54).
“Sometimes when we do see the zone I think we rush the shot a little bit,” Kilpatrick said. “It's like a one pass and then shoot. We've got to work the ball a lot more and get it inside.”
Scouting the Red Storm hasn't changed much in a month’s time. They rely heavily on a dynamic duo of freshmen in D'Angelo Harrison and Mo Harkless who average 16.7 and 16.2 points per game respectively on the season.
Harkless scored 14 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in the first meeting and his offensive rebound and stick back at the buzzer sent the Cats home frustrated with their performance. Harrison was big as well with a team leading 18 points and 7 boards from his guard spot.
“D'Angelo Harrison is one of the best freshman guards, if not the best freshman guard in the country,” said Cronin. “Mo Harkless has got tremendous talent. Those two guys can really score. Their other guys are very fast and athletic.”
One thing that has been a common theme for Cincinnati the last few weeks is catching an opponent looking to bounce back after a loss in their previous contest. That will be no different on Wednesday night as the Red Storm were blown out 95-70 in MSG to Syracuse on Saturday.
“I think this is our fourth straight game where our opponent is coming off a loss,” Cronin said. “They're going to sharpen their focus and make sure they're ready to play in front of their home fans. Hopefully we have somewhat of a mental edge since we lost to them last time.”
While the Bearcats know they will once again get the best shot a young St John's team has to offer, this is one Jackson has been waiting for. Best shot or not, the energetic big man is ready for some payback.
We lost to them last time and we've lost twice to them in this gym,” said Jackson. “We feel like we shouldn't have lost those games. I'm hungry for them.”