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Wednesday, February 20, 2013
W2W4: St. John's vs. South Florida

By Kieran Darcy

Here are three things to watch for when St. John's (15-10, 7-6 Big East) plays South Florida (10-15, 1-12 Big East) on Wednesday at Carnesecca Arena.

Tip-off is at 7 p.m., and you can watch the game locally on SNY.

WELCOME BACK: St. John's coach Steve Lavin will make his return to the bench after missing the team's past two games following the death of his father. Lavin should get an extra-warm reception from the crowd, and his team should be energized by his return as well.

The Red Storm will not, however, have guard Jamal Branch in the lineup. Lavin said Tuesday that Branch -- who has missed the past three games with a knee injury -- feels he is making progress, but still experiences pain when he cuts or does any lateral movement. "Is it another week, is it two weeks, is it wait 'til next year? We just don't really know," Lavin said. "We won't play him until he can go at full speed."

Branch is a key piece. He was third on the team in scoring at the time of his injury and is arguably the team's best ball-handler and passer.

HIGH STAKES: Every game is important down the stretch, but a loss to last-place South Florida at home could torpedo St. John's chances of making the NCAA Tournament. The Red Storm are currently the No. 3 team on the outside looking in, according to Joe Lunardi, ESPN's resident bracketologist.

Three of the Red Storm's final four regular-season games are against teams currently in the Top 25: No. 20 Pittsburgh, No. 25 Notre Dame and No. 17 Marquette. Two of those three games are at home, so St. John's has good opportunities to pick up more quality wins. But first it must take care of business against South Florida.

This is the final game of the season at Carnesecca Arena. The team's remaining two home games, versus Pitt and Marquette, will be played at Madison Square Garden.

THE BULLS: South Florida has lost eight games in a row, and 12 of its past 13. But its one conference win came against Georgetown (19-4, 9-3) -- which is currently tied for second place -- 61-58 at home on Jan. 19.

The Bulls are led by 6-foot-9 junior forward Victor Rudd, who averages a team-high 11.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, and 6-8 senior forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick (10.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg).

South Florida is one of the worst offensive teams in the country -- 328th in Division I (out of 347 schools) in points per game (59.2), and 332nd in field-goal percentage (38.9).

But the Bulls are pretty tough on defense -- 81st in scoring defense (62.6 ppg) and 42nd in 3-point field goal defense (30.4 percent). And they're 21st in turnovers per game (11.2). St. John's is 26th (11.4).