Tuesday, December 19, 2023

St. John's Opens Big East Play Against What Pitino Terms "A team that's a much better team than us right now"


St. John's Head Coach Rick Pitino during their win on December 6 over Sacred Heart. Photo by Jason Schott.

The St. John's Red Storm open the Big East Conference portion of their schedule on Wednesday night when they host Xavier at 7:00 p.m. at Carnesecca Arena on the St. John's campus.

The Red Storm is coming off an impressive 77-55 win over Fordham on Saturday in the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden. That gave them a record of 7-3 in non-conference play to open the season, winners of five of their last six games.

St. John's is 3-0 this season at Carnesecca Arena, colloquially known as The Lou, and this will be the first of just two Big East games played there this season.

PITINO'S POINTS: St. John's Head Coach Rick Pitino addressed the media on Tuesday afternoon ahead of this important moment in the schedule:

On if the Red Storm is ready for Big East play: "I don't know. Everything for me with this team is a guess. As you look at the schedule sometimes you play - 'What would our record be?'. I was hoping at best it would be 8-2, so we are not far off that. The Boston College game (an 86-80 loss on December 10 at Barclays Center) was a very big disappointment. Not that they are not good, they are a very talented team. It's just that when you have a 10-point lead and you know you have to stop the three and then give up three threes, it's just very disappointing but we are getting better and we are improving. We are playing against a [Xavier] team that's a much better team than us right now. Not saying they have better talent, but a much better team. It's a system that beat UConn twice last year, beat St. John's twice, and they have a great system that they are playing to right now. [Xavier Head Coach] Sean [Miller] is not just an outstanding coach, but he has a great system and whether or not we are ready for that system remains to be seen."

On the Big East Conference: "It's the best basketball conference since the inception and Dave Gavitt starting it. On a given year, the ACC could be a little bit stronger, the SEC could be a little bit stronger, but the Big East, since the forming of it in the early 1980s has been just incredible. Now it's strong once again with a National Champion [UConn], Marquette, Creighton, Butler has been a big surprise. Seton Hall has been playing great, Xavier has played Houston, Purdue and Cincinnati. They have all played very tough schedules and it's going to be a heck of a year for a lot of teams."

On his feelings returning to Big East play (He coached Louisville in the Big East until 2013): "Exciting and apprehensive because you have to get ready for these teams in a very short period of time with 14 new players. Our system is not in. Our system is based off relentless defense, what I've always called the 'mother-in-law defense' - constant pressure and harassment. We are nowhere near that yet. It's going to take recruiting quickness, athleticism, speed, size to get to that point, but we are just going to keep building towards that goal."

On the improvement shown in the win over Fordham: "We took a big step forward defensively with our intensity...We still have a long way to go. We just wanted to see more aggressiveness, we wanted to see taking teams out of what they do. Taking the scouting report and saying we know what they are going to do, now take them out of what they do best, and we did a good job of that."

On playing at Carnesecca Arena: "Carnesecca Arena is a very strong home-court advantage. The Garden, not yet, but I have to say, the Fordham crowd was terrific, but Carnesecca Arena is a very strong home court, as the Cintas Center is for Xavier. Most of the teams in the Big East have a very strong home court. We have to make sure we zoom in on scouting and not the crowd because it can work against you...You have to make sure you stay focused on the basketball team."

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