There is something about the St. John’s Red Storm defense that just makes Markus Howard play poorly. The junior guard from Marquette is running away with the Big East player of the year honors as he is averaging twenty-five points a game on the year, the highest total in the league, but against St. John’s the guy just isn’t the same player. The Marquette Golden Eagles have lost a total of two games in their last eighteen, going all the way back to November, and both of those losses have come at the hands of the Red Storm.
When the team’s matched up in January, Howard struggled as he scored just eight points on 2-15 shooting from the field. Last night, Howard struggled again as he shot just 5-17 from the floor, and Marquette couldn’t complete the big comeback after falling down double-digits in the first half, eventually coming up short 70-69. The loss was a painful one for Marquette as they had a lot of momentum coming into the game and had managed to sneak into the top ten nationally. A loss to what was a struggling St. John’s team, that had lost six out of their last ten games, might really hurt all that momentum.
For St. John’s the win likely puts them back on the right side of the bubble. They have been struggling in Big East play, but these two wins over a very good Marquette team are going to go a long way on Selection Sunday. For today’s pick, I will head out west and take a look at two teams that badly need a win, as the USC Trojans host the Runnin’ Utes of Utah.
The Running Utes of Utah will head to Southern California Wednesday for a PAC-12 matchup with the USC Trojans. The Utes have underachieved quite a bit on the season, but they do have a winning record in PAC-12 play at 5-4, and in a league that seemingly is up for grabs, they could find their way into an at-large bid with a strong finish. Utah has played a brutal schedule as they have losses to Minnesota, Kentucky, Nevada, Arizona, and Washington on the season.
For the Trojans, they are in a slightly better position, as they have a better record, and they also have played a lot of good teams, and mostly lost to them all. Losses to Texas Tech, TCU, Oklahoma, and Nevada were all big opportunities for signature wins where the Trojans came up short. The Trojans are -5.5-point home favorites. The game total over-under is set at 150.5 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 8:00 PM PST from the Galen Center.
I keep thinking this USC team is going to get its act together and figure out how to string together some wins and get themselves into the NCAA tournament conversation. Outside of the Washington Huskies, who have taken control of the PAC-12 at 9-0 in league play, the rest of the league is wide open, and there are ample opportunities for the Trojans to pick up wins. And that is just what the Trojans have done in the last two weeks as they have won four out of their last five games, with wins coming against UCLA, Arizona, and Arizona State, and the lone loss coming on the road at Washington.
The Trojans are finally starting to emerge as the second-best team in the PAC-12, a distinction that could get them an at-large bid when it is all said and done. The schedule lays out nicely for USC, as they have already played the best of what the PAC-12 has to offer, and they should finish these last nine games of the season with a winning record.
USC has three legit NBA level players on the team in Bennie Boatwright, Nick Rakocevic, and Kevin Porter Jr. The problem is they just can’t all seem to play well at the same time. This team has enough talent to find the second weekend of the NCAA tournament if they could ever get their act together. They must take advantage of this soft matchup tonight if they want to be seriously considered for an at-large bid.
What can you really say about this Runnin’ Utes team? They are the personification of the rest of this underperforming PAC-12. They barely have their heads above water at 11-10 on the year, and they find themselves in a log jam in the middle of the league. There are eight teams between 4-5 and 6-3 in the PAC-12 right now, and in my estimation, maybe one of them will end up coming out of the PAC-12 and making the tournament, and right now, it doesn’t look like Utah is that team.
I think the Trojans are finally starting to live up to their potential. Yeah, they did have the recent road loss to Washington, but the Huskies might actually be sneaky good as they are undefeated in league play, and remember, this was a team that nearly knocked off Gonzaga at the buzzer in Spokane. So, that loss doesn’t really hurt them much. And besides that road loss, it has been a good couple of weeks for the Trojans. I think they win this one, and fairly easily.
The talent gap is just much too high between these two teams. Utah doesn’t have a single what I would consider a good win. The closest thing they have to a good win was a road win over Arizona State. But the Sun Devils aren’t looking like a tournament team at this point, so it is hard to brag about that one too much. I think the Trojans protect their home court and find a way to win and cover tonight. Give me the USC Trojans laying -5.5-points tonight at home!