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Pre-Duel Pleasantries: St. John's

Talking to the other side

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight your Xavier Musketeers are on the road in New York City to face St. John's. To get you ready for the game, we talked to our good friend, Carmine Carcieri, over at Rumble in the Garden to tell us a bit about the opponent. Let's see what he had to say.

1. So St. John's is having a bit of a roller coaster season so far. How's the temperature in New York?

It's getting hotter as some of the fan base continues to show their frustrations, but I think most St. John's supporters realize that this is a true rebuilding season. It's a young roster that came into the year with nine new players and a new head coach. They have had to deal with injuries, adjusting to the likes of major college basketball and are still grasping the NBA style offense that Chris Mullin has interrogated.

While the Red Storm have struggled with their results (especially against Incarnate Word and NJIT), their effort level is a major positive and there has been constant progressions on both ends of the floor.

This season won't be measured by wins and losses, but instead, success will be gained through improvements and developments of this young core.

2. How would you rate Coach Mullin's time in charge?

Mullin brought in a strong staff that has been particularly impressive in terms of recruiting. They have brought in solid prospects like Italian point guard Federico Mussini, three-star guard Malik Ellison, big man Yankuba Sima, four-star prospect Marcus LoVett (ineligible in 2015-16) and talented power forward Kassoum Yakwe while also building their roster for 2016 with the additions of JUCO talent Bashir Ahmed and top 50 guard Shamorie Ponds.

In terms of coaching on the floor, Mullin has built strong game plans to maximize his roster. Against Syracuse, the Johnnies picked apart their zone defense to perfection, pulling off the upset at Madison Square Garden. And while they were defeated by Providence by 18, Mullin used a big lineup (sending the smaller Mussini to the bench) in the second half to counter Kris Dunn and company and cut the Friars' lead down to six.

3. Which freshman has impressed you more so far, Sima or Mussini?

I have been really impressed by Sima because of his ability to impact the game at both ends of the floor. Coming into conference play, the big man from Spain was one of the top shot blockers in the country, but what has really stood out through two Big East games is his offensive improvements.

Sima can finish with both hands around the rim, has a nice feel for the game, a soft touch and has the talent to pull down offensive rebounds. He does need to work on his left hand more and also build his strength, but he is a legit player that should be a force in the Big East for years to come.

4. What does Xavier need to do to win on Wednesday night?

The Johnnies have had issues with turnovers at points this season so if Xavier pressures the ball, Mussini could have a long night. If Edmond Sumner does play, his length could have a major impact on this game.

Also, the Musketeers need to knock down their open threes because they will get plenty of them. The major weakness for this St. John's squad is their ability to defend the three. They miss a lot of assignments defensively, especially on the perimeter.

5. How many Big East teams will make the tournament this year?

I can see six teams making the tournament from this league: Providence, Butler, Villanova, Xavier, Seton Hall and Georgetown (in no order). The Big East is vastly improved this season and I would not be surprised if the Friars, Bulldogs, Wildcats and Musketeers are all ranked in the top 15 in the country at the year's end.

6. Score prediction?

Xavier 77-60. While the Johnnies have home court advantage that won't mean much in terms of the talent differential. Xavier has big bodies in the paint, tough guards and their experience will overwhelm St. John's.