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Roster(de)bating: Stopping St. John’s guards

Xavier’s roster is what it is at this point, but SJU presents a unique challenge.

NCAA Basketball: Creighton at St. John Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The offensive overhaul that St. John’s has had this season is almost as complete as it is unprecendented. The team that was 302nd in the nation in offensive efficiency last year currently stands 94th in the nation. They’ve cracked 90 six times, hit 100 once, and even put up 76 against Butler’s defense that just held Villanova to 58. Dignity and some since of history kept the Red Storm off the court after that particular win, but it marked the point where they probably ceased to be some sort of Big East punchline and left DePaul far behind. With Xavier’s roster fairly well sorted until The Return, there’s not a lot to debate but the best way to deploy the guys who will be playing.

Force the ball inside:

When St. John’s loses it’s because they have to take a large portion of their shots from inside the arc. From deep they are a menace, from inside the arc, they are shambolic. The 1-3-1 is probably not the way to go when it comes to keeping shooters locked down, and really sitting in the packline as the Musketeers did against Georgetown is also asking for trouble. Xavier’s guards are going to have to close out hard on shooters and rely the shot blockers behind them to harrass anyone who drives.

Stop Shamorie Ponds:

Ponds has posted an offensive efficiency rating under 100 six times this year, and St. John’s has lost five of those games. Ponds is going to shoot whether he is challenged or not and whether he is hot or not. Where Xavier has an advantage over other teams is that they can run length at him no matter who guards him. It likely won’t be Trevon Bluiett, but the stylings of JP Macura would make for an interesting matchup as long as he didn’t get left on an island. The Red Storm don’t have two true post players, so Malcolm Bernard could see time on Ponds as well.

Attack the ball

St. John’s converts well from the line (71%), but they aren’t particularly adept at getting there. They also tend to turn the ball over a lot. The 1-3-1 may not work in half court sets, but extending it slightly or trapping out of it for brief periods of time is very likely to cause the Red Storm some problems. Quick rotation could lead to open threes, but is just as likely to lead to a pass to Coach Mack. Even if they stay in man, Xavier would be well served to be very aggressive on the ball and make St. John’s prove they can control it and get themselves to the line.