W2W4: St. John's at Rutgers

January, 23, 2013
1/23/13
12:38
PM ET
Here are three things to watch for when St. John's (11-7, 3-3 Big East) faces Rutgers (12-5, 3-3 Big East) on Wednesday at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway, N.J.

Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m., and you can watch the game locally on SNY.

TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT: These two teams met at Madison Square Garden two weeks ago, with Rutgers pulling out a 58-56 win. Last season, Rutgers defeated St. John's 61-58 at the RAC. Two years ago, these teams also played twice -- St. John's won both, 58-56 at Carnesecca Arena, and 65-63 at Madison Square Garden in the Big East tournament. This game will likely go down to the wire.

It's also a critical game standings-wise, with St. John's and Rutgers among five teams tied for sixth in the Big East. The latest edition of ESPN.com's Bracketology has seven Big East teams making the NCAA Tournament, with the Red Storm and Scarlet Knights looking to climb into that group.

St. John's has won two in a row, 67-63 versus Notre Dame and 71-62 at DePaul. Rutgers is coming off a 69-66 loss at Notre Dame.

FRESH PRINCE: St. John's forward Jakarr Sampson was just named the Big East rookie of the week for the fourth time this season. Sampson is second on the team in scoring (13.6 ppg) and first in rebounding (6.6 rpg) -- leading all Big East freshmen in both categories. He has scored in double figures in 15 his past 16 games.

Sampson's overall numbers aren't far behind those of Moe Harkless, who averaged 15.3 points and 8.6 rebounds last season, en route to winning the Big East Rookie of the Year award and being selected 15th overall in the NBA draft. But Harkless had some breakout performances, like his 32 points and 13 rebounds against Providence, and his 30-point, 13-rebound effort at Duke. Sampson's season high is 22 points, and he has only reached the 20-point plateau three times. Is he capable of a monster game or two down the stretch, like Harkless? Time will tell.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Rutgers is shooting 74.5 percent as a team from the foul line, ranking 31st in the country. The Scarlet Knights' top two scorers, sophomore guards Eli Carter (16.2 ppg) and Myles Mack (12.9 ppg) are shooting 89.3 and 92.9 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, St. John's is shooting 62.4 percent from the foul line, ranking 321st out of 347 Division I teams. And the Red Storm made just 15 of 27 free throws in that two-point loss to Rutgers on Jan. 9.

Sometimes the game isn't that complicated. Two evenly matched teams play, and the one that shoots better at the foul line wins. Rutgers clearly has the advantage here.

But there is hope for St. John's. The Red Storm made 12 of 15 from the charity stripe in their upset of Notre Dame eight days ago.
Kieran Darcy is an ESPNNewYork.com staff writer. He joined ESPN in August 2000 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played four years of JV basketball.
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