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Xavier v. St. John’s: preview, matchup, keys to the game

After winning 5 of every 6 in non-conference, St. John’s has won 0 of 6 in Big East play. They come into Cintas desperate to get their season up and running.

Villanova v St John's
“I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

There was a time that St. John’s season looked like it was going to be another step forward in Chris Mullin’s campaign to make the people who doubted his appointment as St. John’s head coach - include names you’ll find on the masthead here - eat crow.

Then they opened Big East play with a loss at home to Providence.

Road trips to Seton Hall and Creighton followed without delivering victory. Not ideal, but no shame in losing at either of those venues.

Home losses to DePaul (by 17!) and Georgetown really stung, and the home loss against Villanova was almost perfunctory except for how hard the Red Storm fought it.

Now they come to one of the toughest venues in the Big East desperate to get their first league win. Xavier is trying to salt away a second consecutive home win before heading to South Orange on the weekend. Tonight’s contest will feature teams moving in distinctly different directions in league play.

Team fingerprint

What jumps off the page about St. John’s defense is how well they do the things that make for good YouTube reels. They’re in the top five in the nation in forcing turnovers, blocking shots, and making steals. They’re just going to be all over you. They’re also 15th in the nation in two-point percentage defense, and they rank first in the conference in all of the aforementioned categories.

To be that good at that stuff means either being the best defense in the world or giving somewhere else. At 42nd in the country in defensive efficiency, St. John’s gives somewhere else. They completely concede the arc and the glass, and they send their opponents to the line more often than any other team in the Big East. If they don’t force a turnover or block a shot, it’s not pretty.

On offense, these guys sure do love their two-point jumpers. They shoot 29% of their shots from mid-range - more than any other Big East team - but only hit 33% of them. That’s the foundation of a really inefficient offense, and St. John’s has one. They’re 288th in the nation in EFG% and equally bad from inside and outside the arc. Their ball security is exemplary and they hit their free throws, but their inability to score a field goal really scuttles their efforts.

Personnel

  • St. John’s has two dudes who have hit more than 40% of their two-point jumpers. They are Marcus LoVett (out for the year) and Bryan Trimble, Jr. (2 of 4).
  • If you’re looking for the Italian Eli Manning - playing under the stage name Federico Mussini - he left to play pro ball in Europe.
  • Amar Alibegovic is still on the roster.

Starters

Starting matchups
Shamorie Ponds Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Sophomore Class Sophomore
6'1", 175 Measurements 6'4", 190
20.1/5.6/4.8 Game line 7.6/2.8/5.5
0.399/0.185/0.857 Shooting line 0.402/0.125/0.83
How many threes would you let your point guard shoot if he were making 18% of them? For Chris Mullin, the answer is apparently "more than 100." Ponds is a good finisher and gets to the rim well. He hits his free throws, distributes well, and doesn't turn the ball over. He even rebounds pretty well for a guard. He shoots way too many threes and makes way too few of them, though, and that's killing his efficiency.
Justin Simon Shooting Guard J.P. Macura
Sophomore Class Senior
6'5", 215 Measurements 6'5", 203
10.8/7.2/4.6 Game line 12.4/4.2/3.2
0.459/0.500/0.682 Shooting line 0.46/0.348/0.855
He's 6-12 from beyond the arc, so don't get excited. He rarely comes off the court and is a solid rebounder, but his real bread and butter is defense. He's tough to shake on the perimeter and stay in the passing lanes, and he also blocks a fair number of shots for a guard. He's not a bad distributor, for what that's worth.
Bashir Ahmed Small Forward Trevon Bluiett
Senior Class Senior
6'7", 210 Measurements 6'6", 202
11.9/4.8/0.8 Game line 19.2/5.5/2.6
0.402/0.36/0.571 Shooting line 0.454/0.426/0.818
As the rules allow for five players on the floor for any one team at a time, Ahmed gets playing time. There's nothing much interesting about him as a player. He's an okay shooter, an okay rebounder - especially at the offensive end - and an okay defender. He doesn't turn it over much. He pretty much exists and that's that.
Marvin Clark II Power Forward Kaiser Gates
Junior Class Junior
6'7", 230 Measurements 6'8", 228
11.2/4.2/0.8 Game line 8.9/5.3/1
0.459/0.438/0.919 Shooting line 0.439/0.432/0.824
Clark's the best shooter on the team, but he's not out there hunting shots. His shots are evenly distributed between twos and threes and his two-point attempts are evenly split between the rim and mid-range. He turns it over a bit more than you'd like to see from a shooter and he's not much of a rebounder, but you can't leave him at the arc.
Tariq Owens Center Tyrique Jones
Junior Class Sophomore
6'11", 205 Measurements 6'9", 237
7.8/6.1/0.6 Game line 9/5.7/0.6
0.509/0.333/0.719 Shooting line 0.67/0/0.571
Someone get this kid a meal plan. Beyond how slender he is, he's also really good around the rim (obviously) and a solid rebounder. His real thing is blocking shots though. He's 6th in the nation with a block percentage of 15.8%. That translates to 64 blocked shots on the season; the rest of his team has a total of 50.

Reserves

St. John’s has gotten 192 minutes total off the bench in 6 Big East games. That’s 16% of the total minutes; no team in the nation is getting under 20% of its minutes off the bench over the course of the year; this team is incredibly thin right now.

That bench unit consists of Bryan Trimble - a 6’3” freshman guard who has shot 14 times in Big East play - and two forwards. The first of those is 6’7” Kassoum Yakwe, who has a game line of 2.8/2.5/0.2 and has turned the ball over 7 times in 61 minutes in conference play. The other is Amar Alibegovic. He doesn’t rebound and is 3-21 from deep on the year.

Three questions

- Will St. John’s get to the line? If they do, this an entirely different game. When the Johnnies realize that the 17 foot jumper isn’t a great shot and determine to get to the line, they’re a much better team. (Maybe a coach should tell them that). When St. John’s has a free throw rate over 35%, they’re undefeated, including a game where they were 0-12 behind the arc. When they are below 35%, they are only 5-8.

- Can Xavier make threes? The Musketeers aren’t a great shooting team, making 36.6% of their attempts from three point range this year. When St. John’s holds a team below 35% behind the arc, they are 9-0, when teams shoot 35% or better from deep, the Red Storm are 1-8. If you knock down outside shots against these guys, you’ll win.

- Will Xavier offensive rebound? Compared to Xavier teams of the past, this one isn’t great about grabbing its own misses. Right now, X is 101st in the nation in offensive rebounding rate. On the other hand, St. John’s is downright horrid at keeping teams off the glass. There will be chances there for the Musketeers to crash the glass.

Three keys

- Let St. John’s be themselves. The Johnnies love to shoot jump shots despite not being very good at them. If there’s one thing Coach Mack’s defenses consistently do, it’s concede jumpers. If you see Xavier sitting in its shell while St. John’s lobs jumpers over the top, things are going well.

- Win the freebie war. St. John’s forces a ton of turnovers, but they give back a ton of possessions on the glass. Xavier’s offense can’t afford to hemorrhage chances to score without getting them back somewhere. If Xavier’s point guards can avoid too much slack passing, the big men’s edge on the glass should be definitive.

- Keep the pace high: St. John’s is incredibly shallow and Xavier, if Paul Scruggs is going well, are pretty deep. The Musketeers are still playing pretty quickly on offense and as St. John’s has begun to slump, teams have cranked the pace up on them. Xavier has no particular reason not to run tonight.