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UCLA at St. John's Preview

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 17:  Moe Harkless #4 of the St. John's Red Storm makes a dunk against Arizona Wildcats.  Moe is a freshman of the year candidate.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 17: Moe Harkless #4 of the St. John's Red Storm makes a dunk against Arizona Wildcats. Moe is a freshman of the year candidate. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
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While USC was one of the worst basketball teams in the country, St. John's is merely one of the worst in the Big East. St. John's is 10-16 (4-10 in the Big East) and has lost to the only common opponent both teams faced: Arizona (although Arizona was at home for that game). St John's is a completely different team from last year, literally. Last year the Johnnies' four of five starters were seniors (depending on matchups), whereas this year they start five freshmen.

Last year Steve Lavin was the coach, this year he has been ill and limited in what he can do. Regardless of how we feel about Lavin the coach, we all wish him a full recovery from prostate cancer. There is really nothing the same from the team last year.

Lavin's Noah's Ark recruiting strategy did not quite work as problems, such as players being ineligible, occurred. The team has lost three of its last four by 20 or more points. However, the Johnnies have played some good teams well, such as at Georgetown where they gave #11 Georgetown all they could handle last week.

The Johnnies are led by 6'8" Moe Harkless. A potential nightmare for the Bruins. Moe is listed by many as a freshman of the year candidate, including number 4 on this list:

4. Moe Harkless, St. John's (Last Week: 4): 15.6 ppg, 8.5 rpg
Despite being the focal point of defenses, Harkless is still managing to carry the young Johnnies offensively. He averaged 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in his last two games.

While Harkless is the star, he is not alone. 6'3" guard D'Angelo Harrison has also been good. The Johnnies also gave Duke a run for their money causing Coach K to say:

Harkless scored 30 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the Red Storm's 83-76 loss to eighth-ranked Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. His brilliant individual performance prompted the Blue Devils' Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski to suggest Harkless was "as good as any freshman in the country." The dynamic 6-3 Harrison scored 15 of his 21 points in the second half as the Johnnies rallied from a 22-point deficit, outscraping and outhustling the ACC power (18-3) down the stretch on its home court.

The kids are all right. Actually, they were a lot better than all right.

"The summer before our senior year in high school we were kind of still under the radar," Harrison said. "We were nowhere in the national rankings. At the end of the summer, we had people talking."

Harkless, from the Springfield Gardens section of Queens, built his AAU reputation playing for the Panthers. Harrison, from Dulles High in Missouri City, Tex., played for The Franchize All Stars. The two have been critical pieces for a young St. John's team with five new starters that is starting to grow up. No one is saying the Johnnies (9-12) are ready to play in the NCAA Tournament, but this season has become a study in character and a preview of a promising future. That all hinges, of course, on both young stars staying on campus next year, and head coach Steve Lavin, who is recovering from prostate cancer surgery and has not been on the bench since late November, adding some size and depth to the roster.

Good thing Anthony Stover and Norman Powell will get a lot of minutes today in this non-conference game to cover these guys on defense. Wait, Howland is our coach: never mind.

CBS commentator Bill Rafferty who will call the game was asked about the St. John's team and said this:

Q: What have you made so far of St. John's, who enter the game with a 10-16 record, 4-10 in the Big East?

A: I love watching them play and there's a lot of talent, but they're young and not seasoned. They're prone to maybe taking trips off and maybe the concentration level isn't quite what they'd like. There are just lapses that young teams seem to make. They've got a nice group, but if they get in foul trouble or fatigued, it's going to show.

But the problems with St. John's aren't with the best players, it is with everyone else:

The young Red Storm have experienced much tumult since arriving on campus: Steve Lavin underwent surgery to treat his prostate cancer and has been on the sidelines for only two games, three players were declared academically ineligible and Stith is the second player to leave the program - Nurideen Lindsay left the team in December.

In their last close game with Georgetown, four out of five starters played 35 or more minutes. Two subs only played because two players fouled out and then only for a minute. In reality the entire bench was one player named: God'sgift Achiuwa. The other starters include another all name team player Sir'Dominic Pointer, a 6'5" swing. Phil Greene a 6'2" combo guard forced into being a point which is part of the reason the Johnnies rank at the bottom in the country in assists. 6'6" Amir Garrett was recruited as a small forward but really has forced to play more inside.

Actually the only other true inside big outside Moe is God'sgift (not a typo folks). They also don't shoot well outside except for Harrison. This is really a team where a zone might be a good idea. They are decent athletes, just young, inexperienced, out of position, and a bit disorganized.

This is a game the Bruins should win but there are a lot of danger signs. Will the Bruins be just as tired as the Johnnies? Will CBH use his superior bench? Will CBH force the Johnnies to beat UCLA outside, or will Moe and company tear up UCLA tired bigs on drives like USC did in the second half?

Go Bruins!