NEW YORK -- St. John's was embarrassed by Georgetown six weeks ago, but that's not the only reason swingman Sir'Dominic Pointer is fired up for the rematch Sunday night.
"I really just don’t like Georgetown," Pointer said Saturday. "They’re a bunch of dirty guys -- they’re legal dirty guys, but they’re dirty. And I just really don’t like them, that’s all."
"They’re physical," Pointer added, when asked to explain. "They’ve very physical, and they do stuff on the sly that you won’t pick up. You cut through, they hit you -- that type of stuff. I like that stuff, but like I said, I don’t like them at all."
Guard D'Angelo Harrison and forward JaKarr Sampson, the other two players made available to the media Saturday, didn't go quite as far as Pointer. Sampson chose the word "aggressive" to describe Georgetown.
But all three players agreed that the Hoyas will be facing a very different St. John's squad at Madison Square Garden.
"I feel like we’re a completely different team from the first time we played them," Sampson said. "We’ve got a lot of players who grew up a lot."
Sampson is right. St. John's looks nothing like the squad that trailed Georgetown 42-16 at the half at the Verizon Center on Jan. 4, and by 33 points several minutes into the second half.
After an 0-5 start to begin conference play, the Red Storm have risen from the ashes to win seven of their past eight, including a win over No. 18 Creighton last Sunday at the Garden.
Freshman guard Rysheed Jordan and sophomore center Chris Obekpa in particular have grown up. Both were relative non-factors in the first meeting, scoring two points apiece. But Obekpa has cracked double figures in four of the past five games, in addition to being 11th in the country in blocked shots per game (3.2). Jordan has reached double digits in four of the past six games, and now leads the team in assists per game (3.2) with a 1.6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
There have been other changes, too. Lavin was still figuring out his rotation in early January, using 13 players in the first half alone against Georgetown. The starting lineup was different seemingly every game, and Pointer admitted Saturday that "we had role issues."
Lavin took things one step further against the Hoyas, starting walk-on Khadim Ndiaye and little-used Felix Balamou in an attempt to shake things up after a disappointing performance at Xavier. But don't expect that to happen again Sunday. Lavin now typically uses the same eight or nine players in more regular combinations, and the chemistry has clearly improved.
Georgetown is a different team, too. Starting center Joshua Smith was declared academically ineligble for the rest of the season following the win over St. John's. The Hoyas lost six of their next seven games.
But they've bounced back to win four in a row, including a very impressive nonconference win versus No. 9 Michigan State at Madison Square Garden two weeks ago.
"Without Smith in some ways they’re tougher to match up with," Lavin said, "because they’re faster, and they’re playing at a quicker tempo. They’re giving more freedom to [Markel] Starks (16.8 ppg) and [D'Vauntes Smith-]Rivera (17.1 ppg) to create."
The importance of this game cannot be overestimated. St. John's (16-9, 6-6 Big East, 60 RPI) and Georgetown (15-9, 6-6 Big East, 57 RPI) have nearly identical résumés. The Hoyas are currently one of the last teams in the projected NCAA tournament field, according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, and the Red Storm are one of the first teams knocking at the door -- the second-closest, in fact, as of Saturday night.
St. John's has lost six straight to Georgetown -- no one on the current roster has been part of a win over the Hoyas. The rivalry appeared dead six weeks ago, but it could be resuscitated Sunday night.
"It’s a payback game. They killed us the first game," Pointer said. "This is one of the teams, like I said, in the Big East, I really just don’t like. And I’m gonna keep saying it, 'cause it is what it is. I really don’t."