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Princeton-St. John's Preview

Mar 19, 2010 - 3:46 PM By ANDY LEFKOWITZ STATS Editor

Princeton (26-2) at St. John's (24-6), 12:21 p.m. EDT

Little was expected from St. John's heading into 2009-10, but their most successful season in 26 years has the Red Storm expecting big things in the NCAA tournament.

The same can be said for Princeton.

Sixth-seeded and 15th-ranked St. John's meets the 11th-seeded Tigers, who are looking for their 22nd consecutive win when they make their tournament debut Saturday at Tallahassee, Fla., in the Dayton Regional.

After winning 19 games last season, St. John's (24-6) was picked 12th in the preseason Big East poll. Instead, the Red Storm got off to a 7-0 start en route to their best record since 1983-84 and broke into the Top 25 in February for the fourth time in school history.

The Red Storm's 12 conference wins tripled their total from last season, and the No. 6 seeding is the highest in any of the school's five tournament appearances.

"I think winning has been good for our confidence, but we have to take it one game at a time and not overlook anyone and play each game one at a time," said senior guard Kelly McManmon, who was fourth in the conference with 68 3-pointers.

The Red Storm lost 75-67 to then-No. 6 Notre Dame in the Big East quarterfinals March 7.

"I think today was the first time in some time that we showed our inexperience and youth at the end," coach Kim Barnes Arico said. "The kids got extremely frustrated by it and we tried to continue to stay positive, but I think it really affected us."

Arico's team is led by sophomore forward Da'Shena Stevens, averaging 14.2 points and 7.6 rebounds. Freshman guard Shennika Smith chips in with 13.0 points and 5.0 boards per game.

St. John's is 3-0 against Princeton and will be facing the Tigers for the first time since January 1982.

Princeton (26-2) was picked to finish seventh in the Ivy League before becoming the third team in conference history to go 14-0. The Tigers haven't lost since falling 60-50 to Rutgers on Dec. 5, and they defeated Penn 68-51 to secure the automatic bid March 9.

"I think St. John's is a great matchup for us. I think we know a little bit about them. St. John's is who we wanted, or Virginia or Michigan State, someone like that," coach Courtney Banghart said.

Niveen Rasheed is the player to watch for Princeton. Named the Ivy League rookie of the year, the 6-foot guard led the team with 15.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. She also had team highs with 80 assists and 63 steals.

"It's awesome. Nothing can describe the feeling," Rasheed said of making the tournament. "We surpassed expectations for us, but I think we knew we were capable of doing this."

The winner of this game will face No. 3 seed Florida State or 14th-seeded Louisiana Tech in the second round Monday.