Upset fever has gripped the Big East over the past week with all four top 10 teams suffering losses, and St. John's took part in the fun by putting together back-to-back wins over Louisville at Madison Square Garden and Notre Dame in South Bend. Now, the Red Storm (14-10, 4-8 Big East) will try to win three straight conference games for the first time since the 2007-08 season when it hosts Seton Hall (14-9, 5-7) and hot-shooting Jeremy Hazell Wednesday night at Carnesecca Arena.
The two local rivals split a pair of games last season with each winning at home, but this is their only meeting this season. If last season is a guide, St. John's needs to control Hazell, who averaged 26.5 points against them a year ago on sizzling 18-of-31 shooting. Of course, Hazell, who is averaging 22.4 points per game this season, does that to most everybody if he gets his hands on the ball enough times.
"Hazell is going to make shots," St. John's coach Norm Roberts said on Tuesday. "It doesn't matter how you guard him. We've watched tape of every team in the conference trying to guard him. He makes hard shots. What you've got to do is limit his touches, try to wear him down, don't let him catch it cleanly. If you guard the passer, it's not as easy for them to throw him the ball. That's going to be a big key."
The Pirates also can be strong under the basket with Herb Pope, who is averaging 11.4 points and a Big East-leading 11.0 rebounds per game, and they have several other capable scorers, including Jeff Robinson (10.1 points per game). But if St. John's can make things difficult for Hazell, it's much hard for the Hall, which is 0-5 in Big East road games.
"I know Jeremy Hazell very well," said the Red Storm's Dwight Hardy. "He's a good shooter. We have to concentrate on him a lot. We'll play our usual man-to-man defense and try not to give him any open looks. I think we're a pretty good defensive team. We'll get under his skin and make it tough for him."
Both local schools have shown some improvement this season, but both have been disappointed in a series of competitive conference losses. If either has hopes of making a belated push for an NCAA bid, they have to start now.
"In the locker room, they were talking about a little rivalry between us and Seton Hall," said backup freshman point guard Malik Stith. "It's going to be a fun, exciting game."