W2W4: St. John's vs. Providence

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
7:28
PM ET
Here's what to watch for when No. 5 seed St. John's (20-11, 10-8 Big East) plays No. 4 seed Providence (20-11, 10-8 Big East) on Thursday at Madison Square Garden, in the quarterfinals of the 2014 Big East tournament.

Tip-off is scheduled for approximately 2:30 p.m., and you can watch the game on Fox Sports 1:

WINNER TAKE ALL? We won't have to wait long for high drama in this year's tourney. For all intents and purposes, this game is an NCAA tournament play-in game.

St. John's and Providence have identical records, both overall and in conference, and split their two regular-season meetings. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi currently projects them as Nos. 3 and 4 on the outside looking in, in terms of the NCAA field of 68.

The winner has a good chance of earning an at-large bid. The loser has little or no chance.

St. John's fell behind 14-2 in its 84-83 double-overtime loss to Providence in Queens on Jan. 16. Providence fell behind 14-4 in its 86-76 loss to St. John's in Rhode Island on Feb. 4. The opening minutes could be critical on Thursday.

ONE-TWO PUNCH: We've covered this before, but it deserves being repeated. The much-improved play of freshman guard Rysheed Jordan and sophomore center Chris Obekpa has been critical to St. John's resurgence since mid-January.

[+] EnlargeCarson Desrosiers
Stew Milne/USA TODAY SportsA loss to Providence would almost certainly block St. John's path to the dance.
Jordan has scored in double figures in eight of his past 11 games, and is averaging 15 points in his previous five. Obekpa scored in double figures in four of five games from late January to mid-February, and is back to being a shot-blocking menace on defense.

Jordan and Obekpa both missed a game down the stretch -- Jordan because of the death of his aunt, Obekpa because of an ankle injury. But they're back and appear ready to go for the postseason.

In the Red Storm's loss to the Friars back in January, Jordan went scoreless in 13 minutes and Obekpa had two points and one block in 12 minutes. Those two are much, much bigger factors now.

MISSION STATEMENT: On campus Tuesday, when St. John's forward JaKarr Sampson was asked about Providence, he immediately mentioned two things -- Bryce Cotton, and offensive rebounding.

The Red Storm are well aware of what they need to focus on Thursday.

Cotton, a 6-foot-1 senior, does it all for the Friars. He was the second-leading scorer in the conference in the regular season (21.7 ppg), led the league in assists (5.9 apg), and actually averaged more than 40 minutes per game (40.1), thanks to two overtime and four double-overtime games.

He scored 21 and 32 points in Providence's first two meetings with St. John's. The Red Storm have to try to slow him down.

In terms of rebounding, the Friars led the conference in offensive boards, averaging 12.5 per game. They outrebounded the Red Storm in their last matchup 42-32, including 20-11 on the offensive glass.

Sampson is St. John's leading rebounder, but he only averages 6.1 per game. It'll have to be a team effort for the Red Storm, who are ranked in the middle of the pack in Division I in rebound margin, at 170th (plus 0.7 per game).
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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