Here are three things to watch for when St. John's (4-5) takes on Fordham (4-5) on Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, in the second game of the MSG Holiday Festival.
Tip-off will be at approximately 2:30 p.m., following Rutgers vs. Stony Brook, and the game will air on MSG+.
TURNING POINT: This will be St. John's first game since way back on Dec. 5, when the Red Storm lost at Detroit, 69-63. It will also be the team's first game since starting point guard Nurideen Lindsey decided to leave the program. St. John's is down to six scholarship players for the moment -- fatigue will become even more of a factor, and foul trouble must be avoided at all costs.
St. John's assistant coach Mike Dunlap, who will again coach in Steve Lavin's place on Saturday as Lavin continues to recover from prostate cancer surgery, was asked Friday how the team has adjusted to the loss of Lindsey. "They're in shape for adjustments because with Coach Lavin's illness, they know that we're next-play people," Dunlap said. "That is kind of how we've reared them and we're moving forward. They have been fantastic actually. The intensity of practice has been high-level, communication is up and they're maturing nicely from the Detroit defeat."
Dunlap was also asked if there has been any drop in team morale, with the team losing its last three games, as well as the departure of Lindsey. "I haven't seen one ounce of that," Dunlap said. "I think the esprit de corps is actually up a peg. I don't think it's so much related to Nuri, as it's related to the fact that these guys are -- with another two weeks -- maturing rapidly, and that's just what we're supposed to do with fine wine. It's supposed to age nicely and it is."
LOOKING BACK: St. John's suffered a stunning 84-81 loss to Fordham last December, blowing a 21-point second-half lead at Rose Hill Gym in the Bronx. This time around, a St. John's loss wouldn't be quite as surprising, considering its lack of depth.
In losing Lindsey, St. John's is without its third-leading scorer and leading assist man through the first nine games of the season -- but St. John's was only averaging 10.3 assists per game anyway, ranking them No. 308 in Division I in that category. Tied with them at No. 308? You guessed it, the Fordham Rams.
(RE)BUILDING PROJECT: Fordham is feeling good about itself after a 74-59 win at Siena on Monday. The Rams, who have gone just 2-46 in the Atlantic 10 the past three seasons, are hoping to climb out of the A-10 cellar this season under second-year coach Tom Pecora.
The Rams are shooting just 38.3 percent from the field, ranking them No. 322 in Division I, and just 57.3 percent from the foul line. But they do still have 6-foot-7 forward Chris Gaston -- who leads the team in scoring (14.6 ppg) and rebounding (9.9 rpg) -- along with some talented freshmen, led by Devon "Fatty" McMillan (11.6 ppg, 3.3 apg).