St. John’s vs. UCLA College Basketball Betting Preview

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St. John’s vs. UCLA College Basketball Betting

This St. John’s vs. UCLA College Basketball betting preview is courtesy of our friends at Sportsbook.com.  Check out their website for updated odds here.

The sweathogs will not be waiting at Pauley Pavilion to welcome Steve Lavin back to his old stomping grounds, but his successor, Ben Howland will. Lavin makes his return Saturday to the school where he guided one of college sport’s most iconic programs to an 81-48 record, and five straight NCAA Tournament appearances over six years. Good by most school’s standards, unfortunately for Lavin, UCLA is not most schools, and he was fired in 2003 after a 10-19 season. He returns to L.A. with one of the most improved teams in college basketball, and less than a week removed from the school’s biggest win in nearly a decade, a 93-78 decimation of Duke. While the attention will be on the visiting team‘s coach, this is a very important game to the Red Storm and its NCAA Tournament hopes. At 13-8, and with five out of its last nine games on the road, a win in California would be a huge step towards possibly securing a 20-win season, a figure that should guarantee the Johnnies an at-large bid.

UCLA will be playing its second of four straight home games, and is coming off a 64-50 victory over cross-town rival USC. In a game where its two top scorers, Reeves Nelson (14.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG) and Tyler Honeycutt (13.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG) failed to crack double figures, the Bruins got a big night out of freshman center Joshua Smith, who chipped in 15 points to go along with six rebounds. Smith is one of five UCLA players averaging double figures in points, as well as one of three averaging six or more rebounds per game. Like most Ben Howland teams, they are balanced, defensive-minded and proficient on the boards, but far below average when it comes to stroking the three ball (32.9% as a team). Point of reference, in Pac-10 conference play, UCLA is holding teams to 42% FG Pct., and is the second-best team in the conference at defending the three-pointer. Howland’s defense should salivate at the sight of the Johnnies, who at 31.2% from beyond the arc, have been, shall we say, horizontally challenged in its distance shooting (translation: they don’t hit deep shots).

St John’s is coming off of a 58-56 nailbiter over Rutgers in a game in which they blew a 10-point lead with just under seven minutes to play. Robert Lumpkins was a one-man comeback machine for Rutgers, hitting three straight three-point jumpers to tie the game at 56, before Justin Brownlee (13.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG) won the game on a layup with four seconds remaining. The Red Storm allowed Rutgers to shoot 47.6% from the field, and nearly 44% from beyond the arc, while the Johnnies were only 18% from downtown. Lavin is hoping that sometime between getting off the plane at LAX, and the opening tip, his team markedly improves its performance at making the three-point shot, and defending the three-point shot. Senior Dwight Hardy (15.0 PPG) leads the Red Storm in scoring, and put up a monstrous 26-point effort in the win over Duke. Fellow senior D.J. Kennedy (10.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG) leads the team in rebounding, and is the second-best three-point threat (36.4%). Playing a non-conference road game this late in the season certainly carries great risk, especially against an opponent as tenacious on defense as UCLA, but if Lavin can make this a successful homecoming, his present team could be on its way to hearing an old familiar tune from the NCAA selection committee:

Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.

Pauley Pavilion is a tough place to play, even if you don’t have to travel cross-country like the Red Storm do. St. John’s has been a brutal road team this season, going 2-5 both SU and ATS. Its past three contests away from the Big Apple have been horrendous -- 15-point loss at Notre Dame, 25-point loss at Louisville and 25-point loss at Georgetown.

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