SOMEWHERE NEAR TRENTON, N.J. -- Here are three things to watch in Wednesday night's game between St. John's (11-7, 4-4 in Big East) and No. 20 Georgetown (14-5, 3-4) at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. I'm on an Amtrak train as I write this, heading down for the big game.
STAR POWER: In these two teams' matchup at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 3 -- a 61-58 victory by the Red Storm -- Georgetown guard Austin Freeman had his worst game of the season. Freeman, the preseason Big East Player of the Year, shot just 2-for-10 from the floor and finished with a season-low six points.
But Freeman has been on fire of late. He scored 53 points on 16-for-25 shooting in the Hoyas' past two games, wins over Rutgers and Seton Hall. Georgetown is 13-2 when Freeman scores at least 14 points, but 1-3 when he does not. St. John's must try to blanket him -- especially from beyond the 3-point arc, where the Red Storm have been hurt badly all season long.
(St. John's better bring it on defense in general -- Georgetown is No. 2 in the country in field goal percentage, shooting 50.8 percent as a team.)
For St. John's, leading scorer Dwight Hardy (14.7 points per game) has struggled of late, averaging just 9.8 points on 35.6 percent shooting in the team's past five games. Hardy was huge in the first game against G'town, pouring in 20 points. St. John's could really use a big performance from Hardy again.
CHARITY STRIPE: St. John's, a very poor free-throw shooting team a season ago (65.2 percent, No. 289 in the country), had been steadily improving in this area this season. Through the team's first seven Big East games, the Red Storm were shooting a conference-best 81.9 percent from the foul line. But that progress collapsed on Saturday, when St. John's shot a woeful 12-for-26 from the charity stripe, costing them dearly in a 53-51 loss to Cincinnati at Carnesecca Arena.
Points will be at a premium in this game, playing a team as tough as Georgetown on the road. St. John's must have a strong performance from the foul line to pull off an upset in our nation's capital.
SENSE OF URGENCY: St. John's has accomplished a lot already this season, the team's first under new coach Steve Lavin. The Red Storm have beaten two ranked teams for the first time since the 2005-2006 season, and have begun to re-ignite their fanbase in New York City.
But this team's stated goal from the beginning of this season was to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002. As of now, they would be in the field of 68 according to Joe Lunardi's Bracketology -- but they are losing momentum. St. John's has lost four of its past five games, and faces a very difficult non-conference game versus No. 5 Duke at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.
It's a lot to ask of this team, beating a squad as good as Georgetown twice in the same season. But the Red Storm could really use a win to stop the bleeding and get back on track. Let's see if they play like a motivated, even desperate team on Wednesday night.