- Kieran Darcy, ESPN Staff Writer
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Here's what to watch for when St. John's (19-11, 9-8 Big East) plays Marquette (17-13, 9-8 Big East) on Saturday at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisc.
Tip-off is at noon, and you can watch the game on Fox Sports 1.
Selection Saturday: Yes, we're still a week away from the NCAA tournament bracket being revealed, but this game will go a long way toward determining whether St. John's makes it.
A victory over Marquette would give St. John's 20 wins in the regular season, an above-.500 record in conference play, and a tie for third place with fellow bubble teams Xavier and Providence (if Providence loses at Creighton on Saturday). The Red Storm would face one of those two teams in the Big East quarterfinals, in what could amount to an NCAA tournament play-in game.
A loss to Marquette relegates St. John's to a .500 record in conference, and either sixth place or a tie for sixth with Georgetown. If the Hoyas win at Villanova on Saturday, the Red Storm would have to play a first-round Big East game and then face Creighton in the quarterfinals. Either way, they would have to advance all the way to the Big East championship game to even sniff an at-large bid.
St. John's will be back at full strength, with the return of Rysheed Jordan. The question is, will Jordan start and how will he play in the wake of his family tragedy? He has been a huge part of the team's success down the stretch, scoring in double figures in seven of his past 10 games.
Big battle: It has been a roller coaster of a season for St. John's center Chris Obekpa. He was a major factor defensively in November and early December, disappeared for a stretch in January, and has re-emerged with several excellent performances the past few weeks.
Obekpa is not leading the country in blocked shots per game, as he did last year as a freshman (4.0). But he is among the top 15 -- currently 12th (3.1).
Coach Steve Lavin could really use another big performance from Obekpa on Saturday. Marquette senior forward Davante Gardner, the team's leading scorer (14.9 ppg), is a handful inside to say the least -- 6-foot-8, 290 pounds. If Obekpa can contain Gardner, that'll go a long way toward securing a victory.
Obekpa was very good in the first meeting of these teams -- a 74-59 St. John's victory at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 1 -- with seven points, seven rebounds and seven blocked shots. Gardner had only 10 points and three rebounds. But Obekpa must avoid foul trouble -- he had four fouls in that game and played only 21 minutes.
The Golden Eagles: Marquette has the same conference record as St. John's but a slimmer chance of getting into the NCAA tournament at this point. Its RPI ranking (68) is slightly worse than St. John's (62), its BPI ranking (69) is significantly worse than St. John's (48), and it is 0-7 against top-25 opponents. (St. John's is 1-5.)
The Golden Eagles had a golden opportunity to boost their stock with a win at fellow bubble resident Providence on Tuesday but lost a heartbreaker in double overtime, 81-80. St. John's is listed as the sixth team on the outside looking in, according to the latest edition of ESPN.com's Bracketology, published Thursday. Marquette is not even listed among the first eight, which is as far as ESPN expert Joe Lunardi goes.
Marquette is better on defense than offense -- 88th in Division I in defensive field-goal percentage (41.8) but only 181st in offensive field-goal percentage (44.1). In the first meeting, Marquette had a 21-10 edge on the offensive glass, but St. John's was plus-11 on blocked shots (12-1). D'Angelo Harrison scored 27 points, shooting 6-for-11 from beyond the arc.