ST. JOHN’S (7-7, 1-2 Big East) AT CINCINNATI (12-3, 2-0 Big East)
Time/TV: 2 p.m./MSG, MASN, FSN, ESPN3
Location: Fifth-Third Arena
RPI Rankings: St. John’s 183; Cincinnati 108
Line: Cincinnati -13
St. John’s Players to Watch: F Moe Harkless, 6-8 Fr. (15.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 45.1% FG); G D’Angelo Harrison, 6-3 Fr. (15.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.1 apg); F God’sgift Achiuwa, 6-8 Jr. (11.7 ppg, 7 rpg, 52.8% FG). Harrison had a game-high 24 points and added five rebounds in the Storm’s x-x loss to Louisville on Tuesday and continues to be the team’s leading scorer.
Cincinnati Players to Watch: G Sean Kilpatrick, 6-4 So. (15.3 ppg, 5 rpg, 39.8% 3s); PG Cashmere Wright, 6-0 Jr. (10.9 ppg, 5.2 apg, 1.8 spg); F Yancy Gates, 6-9 Sr. (12.7 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 45.9% FG). Gates came off the bench Wednesday for six points and eight boards in his first game back since his 6-game suspension for his role in a brawl against rival Xavier. Gates made 3-of-4 field goals in the 71-55 victory over Notre Dame.
Storylines: Considering it played six straight games without some key players, Cincinnati’s 6-1 stretch in its last seven games is stunning. The Bearcats are 2-0 in the Big East, a half-game behind Syracuse and Georgetown. St. John’s, on the other hand, is coming off back-to-back Big East losses to Connecticut and Louisville, but the shortheaded Red Storm appear headed toward a bright future.
Keys to Victory: With the Storm struggling from the 3-point line (25 percent) and with Cincinnati’s size advantage, St. John’s will likely look to push the tempo Saturday and force turnovers. After going 2-for-16 and 4-for-24 from beyond the arc in Big East losses to Louisville and Connecticut, respectively, the Red Storm would be wise to try to get to the basket. Harrison, Harkless and fellow-freshman Sir’Dominic Pointer have the ability to do so, but the Bearcats do block 5.4 shots per contest.
The Bottom Line: St. John’s has more athleticism, but Cincinnati has the experienced guards to handle any St. John’s pressure. Throw in their size and shooting advantages, and this should be a routine victory for the Bearcats.
The Pick: Cincinnati 71, St. John’s 59.