Weary Cardinals return home to battle Red Storm

Hoping to keep pace in the race for the Big East Conference regular-season title, the 12th-ranked Louisville Cardinals entertain the St. John's Red Storm on Thursday night at KFC Yum! Center.

St. John's was quietly having a very solid season, at one point winning five straight Big East bouts to climb to 14-7 overall and 6-3 in conference, but losses in two of its last three games has tempered enthusiasm a bit. Still, the Red Storm aren't a team to be taken lightly even though it is 2-3 against ranked opponents this season, both victories coming against Big East rivals (Cincinnati and Notre Dame) in January.

Louisville had been cruising along with a 16-1 record, but a narrow loss at home to Syracuse on Jan. 19 started a trend that would see the team drop three straight and four of its last seven to wind up at its 19-5 overall record and 7-4 league ledger, the latter of which has the team just a game back of first place in the Big East. The Cardinals' most recent bout turned into the longest in both school and Big East history, as they came out on the short end of a 104-101 decision in a five-overtime war at Notre Dame last Saturday. That epic battle aside, UofL is happy to be back home where it has logged an 11-1 record this season.

Louisville owns a 10-4 lead in the all-time series with St. John's, and the Cardinals have won two of the last three meetings.

St. John's averages roughly the same number of points (68.0 ppg) as it allows (66.8 ppg), and the team comes in on the negative side of the rebounding ledger (-3.5), but in the black with respect to turnover margin (+2.9). The Red Storm is hitting 43 percent of its total shots, while permitting just a 39.5 percent success rate to its opponents. The 3-pointer hasn't fallen nearly as often as head coach Steve Lavin would like, in fact SJU ranks next-to-last in the Big East in that category at a mere 30.0 percent. The team is dead last in free-throw percentage (.643), and is one of only four clubs in the conference currently sporting a negative rebounding differential (-3.5). D'Angelo Harrison has done his part to help the team succeed, ranking third in the league in scoring with his 18.3 ppg, and JaKarr Sampson is the only other double-digit scorer with 14.8 ppg, and he heads the team's rebounding effort with 6.6 rpg. Sampson was high man for the Storm with 21 points, Harrison tacked on 13 and Phil Greene IV had 10, but those efforts went for naught as Syracuse prevailed in a 77-58 final last Sunday in the most recent outing for the club. The Orange shot 53.7 percent from the floor, nailing twice as many treys as the Red Storm (10-5).

Louisville ranks in the top-five in the Big East in both scoring offense (74.7 ppg, second) and scoring defense (59.1 ppg, fifth), giving it the third-best scoring margin (+15.6). The team boasts three double-digit point producers, with Russ Smith currently ranking second in the conference at 18.3 ppg, while Chane Behanan (11.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and Peyton Siva (10.3 ppg, 6.0 apg) contribute on a nightly basis, as does Gorgui Dieng (9.4 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 44 blocks). The Cardinals are allowing their opponents to shoot just 39.7 percent from the field, and they are +4.8 in rebounding margin and +6.3 in turnover differential, the team goading foes into 19 miscues per outing, which is far and away the top figure in the league. A total of three Cardinals logged double-doubles in the marathon loss to Notre Dame, led by Behanan's 30-point, 15-rebound effort. Smith (21 points, 10 boards) and Dieng (17 points, 13 rebounds) had impressive outings, as did Luke Hancock, who tallied 22 points off the bench. Neither team shot the ball all that well, the Cards doing so at 40.7 percent and the Irish 41.6 percent, and both were equally ineffective from long range, combining to go just 12-of-50 on 3-point attempts (.240).