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Xavier v. St. John’s: Preview

Xavier looks to go 3-0 as Stan Burrell goes into the Hall of Fame.

NCAA Basketball: St. John at DePaul
Chris Mullin eyes a new place to sit during a game
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The St. John’s Red Storm are not the laughable squad they were last year. Yes, they lost to Delaware St. and LIU Brooklyn (which I guess is pretty amusing), but they’ve also beaten Butler and Syracuse. They’re not nearly on the level of Providence or Georgetown, or even Marquette, but they are no longer a team to be looked past prior to the next legitimate Big East tilt. There are undoubtedly those in New York who think a tournament bid is possible with a good run in the Big East. Adding a Xavier win to one over Butler would go a very long way toward helping that.

Xavier, meanwhile, approaches this as one of maybe four Big East games that losing presents a real blow to the resume. St. John’s may be getting better, but losing to them at home is still nothing other than a huge upset. The Musketeers are currently 12-2 and haven’t lost since the back to back stretch at the start of December. A demolition of Providence was followed quickly by a win over Georgetown on the road. With Myles Davis hopefully returning soon, Xavier is quietly hitting stride.

Team Fingerprint:

On offense, SJU is all about outside shooting. They make 40% of their three pointers, take 40% of their shots from there, and get 37% of their points from behind the arc. Only the percentage of attempts is outside the top 50 in the nation. The Red Storm look for three pointers and shoot them well. They turn the ball over too much for a top level offense, their mediocre getting their own misses, and they don’t get to the line much. Right now, though, they can cover all that when they get rolling from deep.

Defensively, it’s all about blocking shots. It’s almost amazing how specialized St. John’s is on both sides of the ball. That shot blocking leads to a decent interior defense, but the Red Storm can be had from deep and they don’t rebound terribly well. Much as they do on offense, they rely heavily on the one thing they do very well to cover for the places where they are just average. As a result, they can be beaten when LIU Brooklyn and Delaware St. go a combined 14-27 from deep.

Players

Starters

Marcus Lovett Point Guard Edmond Sumner
Freshman Class Sophomore
6'0", 175 Measurements 6'6", 183
17.7/3.7/3.8 Game Line 15.3/4.5/4.8
.542/.422/.811 Shooting Line .496/.286/.733
LoVett is small for the Big East, but you won't mistake him for Dee Davis any time soon. Lovett is definitely a point who likes to look for his own shot, and he has pulled 30 times in going for 55 points over the last two games. He does do decently at taking care of the ball, with 50 assists to 33 turnovers. Worth noting that he has run into foul trouble in all 3 BE games this year.
Shamorie Ponds Shooting Guard JP Macura
Freshman Class Junior
6'1", 170 Measurements 6'5", 203
17.6/5.3/3.2 Game Line 14.8/4.5/2.7
.459/.400/.830 Shooting Line .411/.347/.911
Ponds is the other half of the Johnnies sensational all-freshman backcourt. He passes less and shoots more than LoVett, and with an EFG% of 56.9 it would be hard to blame him for shooting every time he touched it. In addition to being an excellent all around offensive player, Ponds gets almost 2 steals a game and is a danger when running the court in transition.
Malik Ellison Small Forward Trevon Bluiett
Sophomore Class Junior
6'6", 215 Measurements 6'6", 200
7.4/3.2/3.2 Game Line 17.9/5.9/2.2
.442/.392/.431 Shooting Line .423/.337/.779
A veritable old head by St. John's standards, Ellison has improved dramatically on his freshman campaign. He has done so by shooting the ball better and turning it over a lot less, which seems like a pretty simple recipe for improvement. His usage rate has also dropped from 23% to 17%, which probably has also helped as he can now pick his spots more on offense.
Bashir Ahmed Power Forward Malcolm Bernard
Junior Class Senior
6'7", 210 Measurements 6'6",202
12.6/5.8/1.2 Game Line 5.6/4.3/1.6
.398/.412/.661 Shooting Line .378/.341/.476
Ahmed is the only player on the Red Storm in the top 500 in defensive rebounding rate, which is a huge problem. Another problem is that he shoots on 27% of possessions for which he is present, despite his EFG% of 48.2. When he is not grabbing the occasional rebound or chucking from whenever he darn well pleases, he can be found turning the ball over almost 3 times a game.
Kassoum Yakwe Center RaShid Gaston
Sophomore Class Senior
6'7", 210 Measurements 6'9", 239
4.1/3.9/0.9 Game Line 7.8/6.8/0.6
.444/.000/.692 Shooting Line .582/.000/.486
In his pursuit of blocking all the shots this season, Yakwe has abandoned all pretense of defensive rebounding, which has led to a higher block rate, but also a much lower rebounding rate. He still is not really an offensive threat and still fouls a lot, but those sweet 2.4 blocks per game make it all worth it.

Bench

With the departure of Yankuba Sima for something-er pastures, St. John’s really only has 2 players they are sure to bring off the bench. Tariq Owens gets minutes at center on account of being 6’11” and blocking a ton of shots. What he does not do is rebound on defense, although he is the best offensive rebounder on the team. Eli Manning lookalike Federico Mussini has been pushed way down in the pecking order by Ponds and LoVett, but is shining as a shooter off the bench, hitting 47% from three this year.

Three Questions:

- #Myleswatch? No Myles yet. Until he returns, this is going to be the chief question that comes up before every single game.

- Can St. John’s make it a perimeter game? It’s not just that St. John’s wants to shoot a lot of three pointers, it’s that when they are forced to even take attempts from inside, their chances of winning go down. Four teams have made the Red Storm take 40 or more attempts inside the paint, all four have won. Even drop the number to 35 and SJU still only wins 20% of the time. They want to play outside at almost all costs.

- What will the pace be? SJU plays fast, Xavier plays relatively slowly. The idea of a running, gunning, full court game is right in the wheelhouse of the Red Storm. The Musketeers, on the other hand, prefer to be able to set on both ends. The more this looks like a track meet, the more it favors St. John’s.

Three Keys:

- Contain Ponds: As Shamorie Ponds goes, so go the Red Storm. In the six games where his ORtg has been under 100, SJU has lost five. Xavier has the quick length to bother him on the perimeter, which is where he lives.

- Avoid blocks: As I've mentioned before, Xavier gets blocked a lot. SJU blocks shots at a better rate than all but two other teams in the nation. Blocked shots lead to runouts, which leads to a St. John's paced game. X did well protecting shots against the Hoyas, they'll need to today as well.

- Dominate the glass: SJU doesn't rebound well because they are always gambling. O'Mara, Gaston, and Jones are going to have myriad opportunities for second chance points. They need to cash in on them to run away with this game.