Lou Carnesecca, St. John's basketball coach, has a theory why his Redmen have lost five of their previous six games against Georgetown.
"Maybe," Carnesecca said, "John has the whammy on me."
Their 61-6 record the past five seasons at McDonough Arena notwithstanding, Georgetown Coach John Thompson and his Hoyas will be hard pressed to continue that success against St. John's (13-1) in today's 1:30 p.m. regionally televised Big East game (WRC-TV-4). The game is sold out.
Georgetown (10-4) is hurting where it is most vulnerable -- at center -- with starter Ed Spriggs not expected to play because of a sprained ankle. Jeff Bullis, a key Hoya reserve who plays both forward and center, also is hampered by a sprained ankle, but is expected to play.
The situation suggests a possible mismatch. Georgetown has prevailed in recent years because of its ability to attack St. John's man-to-man defense and the Redman's inability to handle the Hoya press.
Georgetown probably will start 7-footMike Frazier in Spriggs' place, since Thompson likes bulk in the middle. In the past the Hoyas have started Tom (Mount) Scates and relieved with a more mobile player once they established their tempo.
Thompson likely will replace Frazier with Mike Hancock, a slim 6-8 sophomore, who is scrappy and can shoot.
"You get a guy like Wayne Mckoy, with good physical strength, and he'll try to bull a guy of Hancock's size," Thompson said, "I'm not sure who I'm going to start, but Hancock's got to play well. He'll play the most time, if Frazier starts or not."
With or without Spriggs, Georgetown could be running into a buzz saw. St. John's has won 11 straight games, 25 of its past 29 and attained top 10 status in both wire-service polls. It reached the NCAA East Regional final last year, and has that starting five back. It has added transfer guard Curtis Redding and forward David Russell, a 6-6 freshman who came off the bench to gain MVP honors in the ECAC Holiday Festival.
These Redmen are typical New Yorkers, a bunch of excellent one-on-one players. But Carnesecca has honed them into a team as complementary as any in his 12 seasons at St. John's.
Seven players usually get equal time, scoring is balanced and so is the rebounding. The Redman are exceptionally quick, normally a Georgetown advantage.
As Thompson told his players at practice recently:
"They are good one-on-one players and they are playing together. Everybody on their team has the ability to do solos on you, as well as play in a team concept."
Here's how balanced the scoring is: 16.2, McKoy 14.3, guard Bernard Rencher 10.4, Russell 10.1, forward Ron Plair 9.5, Redding 9.1 and forward Frank Gilroy 6.0.
Thompson feels today's outcome will hinge on two factors: how well his team rebounds and how well his All-American guard candidate John Duren scores and directs the team.
Carnesecca called Duren the difference in last season's 77-71 Georgetown victory as Jamaica, N.Y. "Not only does he hurt you with his shooting, which he sacrifices for the team," he said, "but he can hurt you with his dribbling and he's a good defensive player, too. He has no weakness."
Other area teams at home will be George Washington, facing winless Massachusetts in a 8 p.m. Eastern Eight game; Navy, playing Yale at 3; Catholic U., trying to stay unbeaten at Brookland Gym in an 8 p.m. contest against Colgate, and the University of the District of Columbia, playing host at Shaw at 8:30.
American will seek its first three-game winning streak this season in a 2:30 p.m. East Coast Conference game at Lehigh, and George Mason will seek its first victory in 11 games, in a 2 p.m. contest at Rider.
Maryland the Atlantic Coast Conference leader, is off today, but will play ACC arch-rival North Carolina at 12:30 p.m. (WJLA-TV-7) Sunday in Chapel Hill.