First off, the news. Elias Harden is not playing in tonight’s game. If you’ve missed the last four games, that’s big because Eli has been playing 19.7 minutes per game during Xavier’s winning streak. His time will have to be filled from one of the thinnest benches in the conference.
St. John’s comes into this game as a pretty steadily .500 team in the Big East. At only one point (3-5) has their record been more than one game away from the break even mark. The Johnnies have big wins in Butler, Marquette, and Villanova, and bad loss to DePaul at home. 3-1 over their last four, they have been playing well recently. That one loss, though, is an absolute drubbing at the hands of Providence.
Xavier, just in case you’d missed it, has ripped off four straight and put themselves back into a place where they can just barely see the edge of the bubble peeking over the curve of the earth. In that span, Xavier has the fourth best defense in the nation and has the 19th best adjusted efficiency in the nation. All of that, of course, comes with Elias Harden on the floor.
St. John’s plays fast, but they do so carefully. The Red Storm are top 10 in the nation in caring for the ball on offense. Those possessions tend to last only about 15 seconds, 12th fastest in the nation. That speed is somewhat negated by good but not great three point shooting, pretty poor two point shooting, and 258th nationally in getting to the line. SJU rarely has a shot blocked, but they almost never (21.4%) grab their own misses.
On defense, the Red Storm are good at dragging possessions out and grabbing steals (12%, 13th). SJU will force turnovers, but in doing so they commit fouls and cede the offensive glass. They’ll also give up a lot of three point attempts in general. whether you think that bodes well for Xavier or not is up to you.
|Shamorie Ponds||Point Guard||Quentin Goodin|
|6'1", 180||Measurements||6'4", 194|
|Ponds is one of the best in the league at getting his own shot. He'll score in bunches off the bounce at all three levels. He's also incredible at setting up his teammates, sporting a top-100 assist rate and a TO% in line with what you'd expect from someone who never does anything but catch and shoot. Oh, and he leads the conference in steal rate. He's really good.|
|Justin Simon||Shooting Guard||Paul Scruggs|
|6'5", 205||Measurements||6'3", 200|
|A defensive menace, Simon is well above average in block rate and steal rate. He's inefficient on offense and shooting just 5-20 from beyond the arc in conference play. He's the closest thing St. John's has to a second distributor; after he and Ponds, the next best assist rate on the team in Big East play is 11.7% from LJ Figueroa.|
|Mustapha Heron||Small Forward||Naji Marshall|
|6'5", 210||Measurements||6'7", 222|
|Heron will at best be a game-time decision tonight, though some sources are already reporting he's a scratch. If that's the case, skip this past and go right down to Bryan Trimble below. If he does play, he's a big-body wing who is the Johnnies' best shooter from behind the arc. He's a catch-and-shoot guy from deep, but he can also put the ball on the deck and score with vigor at the rim. He gets to the line a ton and hits almost 80% of his FT.|
|LJ Figueroa||Power Forward||Tyrique Jones|
|6'6", 195||Measurements||6'9" 235|
|Figueroa is a really good defender, but he's more suited to guarding a wing like Naj than a big man like Tyrique. If Heron is out, the matchups become really tricky for St. John's. I'm sure Chris Mullin can scheme his way through it though! You can't really walk away from him on the arc, and he's an excellent finisher (67% at the rim).|
|Marvin Clark II||Center||Zach Hankins|
|6'7", 225||Measurements||6'11", 245|
|The biggest dude in the starting lineup and second biggest on the team. He's a good finisher, but he only takes 1 in 5 of his attempts from in the paint. In fact, 70% of his shots come from behind the arc, underscoring the five-out nature of the St. John's offense. He's a good defensive rebounder and never turns the ball over.|
Not much, to be honest. Guard Bryan Trimble is one of the huskier dudes you’re going to see at this level, working at 6’3”, 220. He averages 2.4/1.5/0.4 and figures to step in if Mustapha Heron can’t go. He started against Seton Hall and went for 3/1/2 with 4 fouls in 17 minutes.
Sophomore reserve Sedee Keita is 6’9” and thus the biggest member of the team who sees regular minutes. He’s a solid rim protector, not much of a rebounder, and fairly inefficient offensively. Freshman guards Greg Williams and Marcellus Earlington might also get some run with Heron questionable, but they haven’t played enough for me to speak authoritatively on what they might do.
- Who gets Harden’s minutes? Ryan Welage is the most likely choice, as he has surrendered a lot of his time to Eli to begin with. Welly hasn’t played double digit minutes in either of the last two games. Kyle Castlin also figures to see an uptick in time. It’s also possible that Coach Steele leans into the double bigs to see how much he can wring out of Jones and Hankins.
- Where can Xavier grab an edge? The offensive glass really jumps out as a place where the Musketeers have a shot to impact the game. SJU doesn’t play a tall rotation, and X is going now. Likewise, the Johnnies figure to have a hard time scoring inside. It’s incumbent on the Musketeers to make that tell.
- Can Steele adjust again? Coach Steele had tweaked his team to make this four game run, and now he’s made a decision that puts him in a place to have to do that again. There’s no question that Steele is the better coach in this matchup, but he also lacks experience. Can he do it again?
- Care for the ball: St. John’s wants to turn defense into offense and do it by forcing turnovers, not stops. Xavier, you may have noticed, throws the ball away a lot. A high turnover rate tonight will doom the Musketeers.
- Knock down threes: There are going to be shots available that Xavier won’t necessarily have to hunt. Naji Marshall is making 37% of his since February began. In conference, Paul Scruggs is making 40% and Ryan Welage is making 37%. Those guys are going to get looks against this defense.
- Contain Shamorie Ponds: Ponds is St. John’s leading scorer, their second leading scorer may not play, and he uses the ball more than any other Red Storm player. He’s going to try to get his and, more often than not, get it. He’ll likely take 20 shots, and Xavier is down their best on ball perimeter defender. Quentin Goodin seems likely to draw this assignment.