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Xavier v. St. John's: Preview

Xavier is fighting to get off the bubble; St. John's is fighting to get onto it. Both teams need to make an impression on the Selection Committee in the next three weeks.

This guy can play a little.
This guy can play a little.
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

I probably don't have to tell you how big this game is for Xavier. After that little hiccup against Creighton, the Musketeers are pretty much full to capacity as far as even mediocre losses go. One more defeat that isn't against a top team and the Plimsoll mark of Xavier's tournament hopes goes beneath the water line, leaving the Muskies once again sweating it out on Selection Sunday.

St. John's comes in with a slightly different bubble standing. After starting the season 11-1 against a fairly "meh" non-conference schedule, they now sit at 16-8, starting up at the bubble with the wrong kind of momentum. They've got two wins against Providence and a whole lot of garbage on their resume; the Red Storm needs a good stretch run or they'll be playing for NIT seeding.

Team fingerprint:
The Johnnies' offense has been the second most efficient in the league, and it's frankly a really bad matchup for Xavier. They are tops in the league in 3P% (38.1%) and offensive TO%. Only 29% of their shots come from behind the arc, but that might change against Xavier's three-point defense. Their offensive efficiency inside the arc is hurt by a reliance on mid-range shots despite not being very good at them. Beyond that they're solid free throw shooters but poor on the glass.

Defensively, St. John's has been bad at everything except blocking shots. They are an exceptionally permissive three-point defense, allowing teams to shoot them at will and make them at a 35.6% clip. They're second to last in the conference in defensive rebounding and - despite all the blocked shots - merely average at 2P% defense. They're 3rd in the league in steal% but only 6th in overall TO%.

Starters:

Rysheed Jordan POINT GUARD DEE DAVIS
Sophomore Class Senior
6'4", 193 Measurements 6'0", 160
14.2/3.8/2.9 Game Line 8.7/2.2/6.2
.437/.356/.650 Shooting Line .391/.273/.721
Jordan loves to have the ball. He leads the team in assist rate at a modest 17.9% in conference and also boasts a 25.9% shot rate. He's more effective and prolific scoring on the left side of the floor than the right, and he gets all the way to the rim more often than his backcourt mates.
Phil Greene IV SHOOTING GUARD MYLES DAVIS
Senior Class Sophomore
6'2", 187 Measurements 6'2", 195
12.5/3.2/1.7 Game Line 11.3/2.4/2.2
.424/.356/.727 Shooting Line .425/.398/.894
Greene also plays some point, but his shot rate is about the same as Jordan's and his assist rate is significantly lower. He shoots the three well from both corners and the left wing and pulls up for jumpers at the elbows more often than he drives to the tin. He almost never turns the ball over or gets called for fouls despite spending over 36 minutes per game on the floor in conference.
D'Angelo Harrison SMALL FORWARD Remy Abell
Senior Class Senior
6'4", 202 Measurements
19.2/5.8/1.8 Game Line 9.0/2.0/1.4
.434/.385/.818 Shooting Line .503/.424/.741
Harrison is the man for St. John's. He shoots his threes from the wing and the top of the key, rarely visiting either corner. Less than 20% of his shots come at the rim; he dribbles to pull up, more at the elbows than the baseline. He's more effective on the defensive glass than the offensive and is no great shakes on defense.
Sir'Dominic Porter POWER FORWARD TREVON BLUIETT
Senior Class Freshman
6'6", 192 Measurements 6'6", 215
12.5/7.5/3.1 Game Line 12.4/4.7/1.9
.520/.056/.742 Shooting Line .460/.330/.747
Porter is a bit undersized for a four but is a monster on the glass at both ends and distributes the ball as well as anyone on the team. His offensive game is at the rim and in the short mid-range. He also blocks shots almost as effectively as noted eraser Chris Obekpa.
Chris Obekpa CENTER MATT STAINBROOK
Junior Class Senior
6'10", 236 Measurements 6'10", 270
6.5/7.3/0.5 Game Line 12.1/6.7/2.3
.467/.000/.536 Shooting Line .614/.333/.768
Obekpa has been nursing an ankle injury that kept him out of St. John's last game. He figures to be a game-time decision Saturday. If he plays, he's the Johnnie's best rebounder and effective rim protector, but the dude is a complete liability on offense. If you locked him alone in a gym with a ball overnight, he'd have about eight points when you came back in the morning.

Reserves:
Only 21.5% of the Johnnies' minutes come from the bench.

Jamal Branch is a backup guard who can score and distribute a little bit while not being great at either. Nobody else on the bench has played in even three quarters of St. Johns' games. Amir Alibegovic is a freshman reserve big man of little note. Felix Balamou is a junior guard who got the start Wednesday when Obekpa was out. Those 33 minutes were more than a fifth of his season's total.

Three questions:
-Will Obekpa play?
With Obekpa out against DePaul, St. John's got a total of 2/4/0 in 18 minutes of play from the bench. That's not one guy, that's the entire contribution of everyone who didn't start. If Obekpa's ankle still sidelines him on Saturday, Xavier will be basically playing against five guys.

-Who starts at the four? Coach Mack went with three guards, Trevon Bluiett, and Matt Stainbrook in the mid-week fixture at Marquette, and usual starter James Farr didn't even see the floor until midway through the second half. St. John's isn't a particularly big team; will Mack stick with Bluiett at the four or go back to a traditional lineup tomorrow?

-How will Xavier defend? The Musketeers have had great success with a 1-3-1 zone instead of their usual man. The downfall of that defense is that it dares teams to shoot threes from the wings, and St. John's is a good three-point shooting team. Will X add wing pressure to the zone, go man, or just make St. John's beat them from deep?

Three keys:
-Speed up the game. St. John's has no depth and Xavier has a ton of it. St. John's basically ignores the offensive glass in favor of sending guys back to set up the defense. If Xavier can catch them while they're still in reverse by getting the ball out quickly, the Muskies can wear their opponent down and nullify one of the most effective facets of St. John's' game.

-Win the freebie war. The Johnnies basically concede the glass at one end and aren't that great on the other, and both teams have offenses that are stingy with the basketball. Offensive rebounds and forced turnovers are free possessions for a team; Xavier has a chance to dominate both of those categories on Saturday.

-Score from outside. Xavier has run hot and cold from behind the arc in Big East play, but the St. John's defense will give them plenty of opportunities to score three-point baskets. Whether or not Xavier converts on those may well be the largest factor in the outcome of the game.