The bright lights of Madison Square Garden await the Arizona Wildcats on Thursday night in what will be the first true test of the season. UA managed to escape with victories over Valparaiso, Duquesne and Ball State despite poor play at times, though they will have to elevate their game if they hope to beat Steve Lavin and St. John's.
The Red Storm are incredibly young and this will be the first primetime tipoff for many of their players. With the home crowd heavily rooting in their favor, expect a wild and raucous environment from New York City this evening.
St. John's has received balanced scoring throughout their first three games. The name the nation knows most -- and when we say 'name', we actually mean his name -- is junior forward God'sgift Achiuwa. The big man leads the Red Storm in scoring with nearly 18 points per game and brings a big defensive presence around the basket.
While Achiuwa does almost all of his damage in the paint, SJU features two guards and a point-forward who know how to score the basketball. Sophomore point guard Nurideen Lindsey does a tremendous job running the offense and has found success scoring the ball this season. Lindsey is flanked by Moe Harkless and D'Angelo Harrison on the wings, and both players are capable of filling a stat sheet any night of the week.
Similar to Arizona, while St. John's enters the game with a perfect record of 3-0, it has hardly been a cakewalk up to this point. The Johnnies trailed late in their first two contests against William & Mary and Lehigh University, and digging in on defense for an entire 40 minutes has been an issue for Lavin's club.
Matchup To Watch: Jesse Perry vs. God'sgift Achiuwa
Neither team features a tradition big man to control the paint and the guards and wings appear to be very evenly matched. I honestly believe the game comes down to these two players; whichever team gets better play out of their guy will be the victors on Thursday night.
Projected Starters: Arizona may be changing their starting lineup to accommodate St John's style of play. While Jordin Mayes, Kyle Fogg, Solomon Hill and Jesse Perry are all expected to start, do not be surprised to see freshman Angelo Chol making the first start of his career over Kyryl Natyazhko. Chol's incredible athleticism and ability on the defensive end of the court could be huge for the Wildcats in a game that is expected to be high-tempo.
TV Coverage: ESPN2 will cover the game. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. in Madison Square Garden, which is 7 p.m. in Tucson.
Final Prediction: I keep going back and forth on the game and expect it to be closely contested throughout. St. John's will have the home crowd on their side, but Arizona's depth and experience will be huge on Thursday evening. In the end, UA hits a few more shots in the closing minutes as they sneak away with a 73-70 victory.