Two St. John’s stunners had to be seen to be believed
I can’t believe it happened, and I watched most of it. St. John’s upset fourth-ranked Duke at Madison Square Garden last Saturday, then upended No. 1 Villanova in Philadelphia Wednesday night.
This is the same team Sully’s Court buried last week with its 11-game losing streak. (Quick aside: A Maryland fan asked me to write about his team so its season would improve.) On the surface, there’s no real explanation. It shouldn’t happen, but it did.
In reality, Duke’s freshmen play too many key roles and could be ripe for an upset at any time. For example, they weren’t able to sustain their effort in the hostile environment of the Dean Dome in a loss to North Carolina Thursday night. And Villanova shot poorly (28 of 67) against St. John’s and was missing two starters. Star forward Mikal Bridges seemed to disappear at the end.
St. John’s has an excellent scorer in Shamorie Ponds, and the rest of the Johnnies played some gritty defense. Chris Mullin has yet to impress me on the bench, and his strategy playing with a lead late in both games worried me. He had his team use up the entire shot clock on offense, which led to some hurried, poorly executed plays. In both games, they should have stayed aggressive.
In the end, they survived for the two best wins since Mullin returned to Queens as coach. The Johnnies have Marquette Saturday in Queens, not the Garden.
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Here’s something notable: Saint Bonaventure guard Jaylen Adams exceeded 40 points in consecutive games. The last time a player from Bona did that, it was Bob Lanier in 1969.
Lanier, of course, is a Hall of Famer who led Bona to the Final Four that season. But he suffered a knee injury in that East Region final and couldn’t play in the national semifinal, which Bona lost to Jacksonville.
I saw Lanier play that season, and he scored 50 against Purdue in Madison Square Garden. He was a mountain of a man with a deft lefthanded touch.
Adams and Bona take on surging Richmond Saturday in Olean.
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Other games I’d like to see this weekend
Butler at Villanova: The Wildcats are hurting right now, and another upset is possible.
North Carolina at North Carolina State: State beat the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, now they get a chance to do it in Raleigh.
Miami at BC: Big game for the Eagles. A chance for another victory over a nationally ranked team. Some advice for Miami coach Jim Larranaga: cover Jerome Robinson closely.
Xavier at Creighton: X escaped in OT at Butler earlier this week and now has to tangle with the Bluejays in Omaha. It won’t be easy.
Purdue at Michigan State: Purdue’s 19-game winning streak just ended at home vs. Ohio State. After this one, it’ll have a two-game losing streak.
Penn at Harvard: The Quakers can firmly establish themselves as the best team in the Ivy.
Tennessee at Alabama: The Vols have been tremendous this season and are coming off an exhilarating win over Kentucky at Rupp, but I think another road victory would be asking too much.
Texas Tech at Kansas State: Tech is back in the groove with a five-game winning streak. K State just had a nice win at Texas. Too close to call.
Kentucky at Texas A&M: I admit it, it’s fun to watch Kentucky fans suffer after losses. Here’s another one.
Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s: The Gaels won in Spokane earlier this season, but the team I saw against San Diego last week didn’t look sharp. Zags get them back.
Southern Cal at Arizona: Arizona lost to UCLA Thursday night. No way they allow a sweep.
Cincinnati at SMU: The Bearcats are just crushing teams. I expect the same here.