St. John's vs. Columbia -- a preview

November, 17, 2010
11/17/10
3:38
PM ET
St. John's will play its home opener Wednesday night, hosting fellow New York City school Columbia at Carnesecca Arena. Tip-off is at 8 p.m.

Steve Lavin will again be looking to win his first game as St. John's head coach, after the Red Storm lost Monday night/Tuesday morning to St. Mary's in California, 76-71.

On paper, St. John's should win this game easily. But we must take into account the short turnaround the St. John's players are facing, after a tough game late Monday night and a long flight home Tuesday, arriving at JFK Airport around 9 p.m.

An excited home-opener crowd could offset the jet-lag effect.

As for the game itself, St. John's needs its two leading scorers from a season ago -- swingman D.J. Kennedy and shooting guard Dwight Hardy -- to be more aggressive than they were against St. Mary's. Kennedy was just 1-for-5 from the field, Hardy 1-for-6. Lavin has emphasized better shot selection and increased patience (when there's no fast-break opportunity) on offense in the preseason -- but players can be too patient, and it appeared Kennedy and Hardy were just that at times on Monday night.

Forward Dwayne Polee and point guard Malik Boothe were more aggressive against St. Mary's, and it paid off -- both players were more effective offensively, and ended up leading the team with 16 and 15 points, respectively. But Kennedy and Hardy need to be more proficient scorers for St. John's to win consistently this season.

Speaking of Polee, the freshman was outstanding against St. Mary's, particularly considering it was his first college game. Look for him to become an instant crowd favorite on Wednesday night -- especially if he throws down a soaring slam dunk or two, like he did in the season opener.

St. John's will also be looking for a better performance from starting forward Justin Brownlee, who got into early foul trouble against St. Mary's and finished with just one point in 13 minutes. Lavin said Brownlee was the team's most improved player in the offseason -- he was great in the team's exhibition game at Carnesecca on Nov. 6, and should be able to do some damage against Columbia.

As for the Lions, they are 1-1 on the young season, under first-year head coach Kyle Smith -- a former St. Mary's assistant. Columbia opened up at LaSalle, and led by 12 with 15:33 to play, but just couldn't hold on. Then the Lions came home and routed Maryland-Eastern Shore 108-74, making 38 of their 60 shots from the field.

Columbia's top player is 6-foot-3 junior guard Noruwa Agho, a second-team All-Ivy League player last season who's averaging 21.5 points and 6.5 assists through this season's first two games. He is a handful.

Columbia was picked to finish seventh in the eight-team Ivy League this season by Blue Ribbon -- but this is one of its biggest games of the season, so you can guarantee the Lions will be fired up.

We'll see how St. John's responds, starting at 8 p.m.
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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