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Xavier @ St. John’s: Preview

Xavier looks for their second road win of the season with a trip to MSG.

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Georgetown Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it’s time for Xavier to play basketball again. If those words don’t fill you with quite as much anticipation as they did a fortnight ago, you are hardly alone. The Musketeers in currently in their worst stretch of form in the last several, perhaps at any point during the Coach Mack era. A loss in the Crosstown Shootout didn’t so much highlight pre-existing problems with the team as bring to light a whole new set of potential issues. With rumor leaking out late on Friday that Edmond Sumner may be seriously injured, reasons for optimism are at a low ebb.

How much the same can be said of St. John’s probably depends on who you ask. A 2-0 Big East start that came on the heels of a non-conference win over Syracuse has turned into a 4-5 conference record and a four game losing streak that was just recently snapped. The Red Storm got beaten pretty soundly by Seton Hall, but then went on the road and beat Providence. Like most youngish teams, they are wildly inconsistent.

Team Fingerprint:

Play fast, shoot threes well, and hope the rest doesn’t catch up to you. That’s not an oversimiplification. When St. John’s shoots 41% or better from behind the arc, they win. When they shoot less than that, they are 2-12. They are the very definition of a run and gun team that can kill you if they get hot and can kill themselves if they don’t.

St. John’s would prefer not to play defense but, if you insist on taking a turn with the ball, they will do everything in their power to block shots and force turnovers. Their turnover rate of 20% isn’t elite, but their block rate of 15.7% absolutely is. Make no mistake, these guys will fly from everywhere to get their hands on a shot.

The Red Storm don’t crash the glass much at all on either end despite having the athletes to do it. It will be telling both of Chris Mullin’s abilities as a coach and how much the book is out on Xavier if SJU players are flying to the rim after shots. If UC’s relentless attack of the offensive glass exposed a problem and wasn’t just an aberration, these guys are athletic enough to exploit it.

Players

Marcus LoVett Point Guard Edmond Sumner
Freshman Class Sophomore
6'0", 175 Measurements 6'6", 183
17.2/3.4/3.6 Game Line 14.9/4.4/4.9
.477/.415/.838 Shooting Line .468/.262/.742
After dropping 32 on X, he hit the skids a bit, but is back to his best now with 48 over his last 2 games. Disturbingly, his numbers have been a bit better in conference play and he ranks in the top 20 in the Big East in FG, 3PT, and FT %. He is a bit turnover prone, turning it over multiple times in 7 of 9 Big East games, the same rate at which he puts up multi-assist games. Make no mistake about it, this guy is a big time guard and will be a terror for the entirety of his St. John's career.
Shamorie Ponds Shooting Guard JP Macura
Freshman Class Junior
6'1", 170 Measurements 6'5", 203
17.0/4.9/3.2 Game Line 14.4/4.3/2.4
.444/.393/.810 Shooting Line .421/.346/.824
Ponds shoots more frequently and less efficiently than LoVett, but that comes with fewer turnovers, and a better ability to get to the line. Ponds is equally comfortable driving the ball or spotting up from three and is excellent at creating turnovers with 2 out of the last 3 games bing 3 steal performances. He is coming off an efficient 22 points on 9 field goals against Providence, so X will have their hands full here, too.
Malik Ellison Small Forward Trevon Bluiett
Sophomore Class Junior
6'6", 215 Measurements 6'6", 200
8.5/3.3/2.8 Game Line 18.4/5.7/2.1
.464/.417/.559 Shooting Line .430/.364/.749
With a pair of dynamic guards to set the tone, St. John's has risen and fallen with this guy in conference play. In games where his ORTG is over 100, they are undefeated, when it is under 100, they are 1-5. Ellison only has a usage rate of 19 in conference play, but sits right outside the top 20 in eFG% and gets to the offensive glass and in opponents passing lanes well, winning the Johnnies a lot of free possessions. How many of them he successfully converts into points or assists will go a long way into determining the outcome.
Bashir Ahmed Power Forward Malcolm Bernard
Junior Class Senior
6'7", 210 Measurements 6'6",202
12.7/5.5/1.3 Game Line 6.2/4.0/1.6
.379/.373/.673 Shooting Line .410/.400/.633
Only 11 players in the conference use more possessions than this guy, which is only a problem because he is usually an unmitigated disaster on offense. In 9 games, he has had more assists than turnovers once, couple that with and eFG of 42% and it paints a pretty bleak picture of his offensive game. He is a decent rebounder, but costs his team a lot of possessions to get 12 points a game.
Kassoum Yakwe Center RaShid Gaston
Sophomore Class Senior
6'7", 210 Measurements 6'9", 239
3.7/3.4/0.9 Game Line 7.0/6.5/0.6
.429/.000/.710 Shooting Line .542/.000/.479
Yakwe is the best shot blocker in the league and in the top 20 nationally, but doesn't add a whole lot else. He is a bad rebounder for a center, fouls a lot, turns the ball over at an incredible rate, and is barely over 40% from the field in conference play. He has eclipsed 2 points only 3 times in the Big East this year, so I guess his entire appeal is that he is hard to shoot over.

Reserves

The two main bench players for St. John’s are Federico Mussini and Tariq Owens. Mussini is a sharp shooting guard who is 45% from three point range on the year, although the number has dropped to 37% in conference play. Owens is a 6’11” center who dominates the lane as one of the top 10 rebounders in thje Big East at both ends and second only to Yakwe in shot blocking. He is also much, much better on offense than Yakwe, shooting better and turning it over less. Darien Williams is the only other player to appear in all 9 Big East games this year and uses his 6’8” frame to grab a ton of defensive rebounds, but doesn’t do much else.

Three questions:

- Is Edmond healthy? A simple eye test would seem to argue that he isn’t, but 14/7/7 in 32 minutes against Georgetown would seem to argue that he’s capable of playing very well. There’s no question something is going on with his left shoulder. What no one can seem to nail down is exactly what that ailment is.

- Are Tyrique Jones and Quentin Goodin ready? Trevon was, obviously, the best player on Xavier on Thursday, but the two freshman were very good in their own way. Jones fouled too much, but he was the only Musketeer other than JP Macura who showed some fortitude on the glass. Goodin’s 7/0/6 actually landed him the highest efficiency rating on the team for the game.

- Can Trevon stay hot? Maybe not THAT hot, but there’s no way to take Thursday as anything but an incredibly good sign from Xavier’s leading scorer. If the team needs a boost and needs someone to take over, this could be Trevon’s time.

Three keys:

- Remember how to rebound: Not a lot of exposition needed there.

- Make some more threes: Xavier without Trevon was 6-17 from behind the arc against UC. That’s still not going to cut it. After the bigs wilted it is hard to continue to campaign for X to force the ball inside. This team’s success may ultimately come down to finally making some shots.

- Forget Thursday: More than anything, Xavier can’t get off to a slow start. The Red Storm are going to have a home crowd behind them and they are going to smell blood on the water. Xavier has to get rolling quickly or watch this thing spiral all the way out of control. Furthermore, showing some [radio edit] down the stretch would be nice as well.