NCAA Odds: St. John’s storms into Seton Hall

By: Michael Robinson | Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The St. John’s Red Storm look for their seventh consecutive win, both straight-up and against the spread, when they visit the Seton Hall Pirates on Thursday night.

The Red Storm (19-9 SU, 14-13 ATS) are one of college basketball’s darlings, moving up to No. 15 in the latest AP poll and aiming for their first NCAA tourney berth since 2002. That’s almost a lock at 11-5 SU in the Big East and just two regular season games to go.

First-year coach Steve Lavin deserves much of the credit after leaving his ESPN gig to resuscitate this once proud program. St. John’s basketball is suddenly a hot topic in New York City, which will help local recruiting and keep the engine fueled for future success.

A March Madness trip wasn’t looking good after an 11-8 SU start (7-11 ATS). However, the team is 8-1 SU and 7-2 ATS in the last nine games, and perfect in both categories the last six.

Red Storm critics can’t point to an easy schedule. They’ve been the favorite in just two of their last nine games and have beaten four ranked teams in that span (Duke, Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Villanova).

The Villanova game was last Saturday and the Red Storm got an 81-68 win as 6 ½-point road ‘dogs. Guard Dwight Hardy (17.9 PPG) had a career-high 34 points and the 6-foot-2 senior has played out of his mind the last nine games (25.1 PPG). It was their first road win over a ranked opponent since 2002.

Hardy is one of four starting seniors. The top three reserves are also in their final year. Team confidence is at an all-time high, but Lavin need to keep his guys focused and avoid a letdown as a road favorite.

Seton Hall (11-17 SU, 12-14 ATS) is at the other end of the spectrum at 5-11 SU (8-8 ATS) in the conference. Coach Kevin Willard has had a tough first year after replacing the fired Bobby Gonzalez.

Team depth took a hit with when sophomore forward Ferrakohn Hall decided to transfer in December. Senior guards Keon Lawrence and Jamel Jackson were kicked off the squad on Feb. 12 for violating team rules.

There is some talent remaining, but it’s far from cohesive. Guard Jeremy Hazell (18.5 PPG) leads in scoring, but is shooting just 40 percent from the field and 29.7 percent from ‘three.’ He also missed 13 games (returning Jan. 12) after wrist surgery and getting shot in an attempted robbery.

Forward Jeff Robinson (12.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG) and point guard Jordan Theodore (10.7 PPG, 4.4 APG) have been solid performers, but power forward Herb Pope (10 PPG, 8.2 RPG) has seen his numbers decrease this year and is averaging just 7.2 PPG the last six.

The Pirates are on a three-game losing streak (1-2 ATS). They lost 60-48 at Notre Dame on Saturday as 10-point ‘dogs, shooting just 30.4 percent from the field.

The 108 combined points scored went way ‘under’ the 139 ½-point total. The ‘under’ is 6-0-1 in Seton Hall’s last seven games.

Seton Hall is 3-0 ATS in its last three home games, beating Providence (81-71) on Jan. 30 and more recently ‘covering’ close losses to Connecticut (61-59) and Villanova (60-57).

The ‘under’ is 4-0 in Seton Hall’s last four home games and 11-1 in the last 12.

This is the first meeting between the teams this year. The home team is 6-1 ATS in the last seven. St. John’s is just 1-4 ATS in its last five at Seton Hall.

ESPN2 will have the 4 p.m. (PT) tip-off from the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.  The game will be followed by the UCLA, Washington clash in Seattle.

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