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

Xavier takes on a St. John’s team now unencumbered by Chris Mullin.

NCAA Basketball: Butler at St. John
The biggest difference maker St. John’s has
Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

If you didn’t know that St. John’s fired Chris Mullin over the off-season a quick glimpse at their results may have confused you. A win over Arizona away from home? A gutsy win over West Virginia? Only three losses? Yes, this Red Storm is an entirely different one to the one that Mullin presided over by essentially not coaching. St. John’s may very well be good this season, and they certainly aren’t a pushover.

Xavier enters this game with a rejuvenated foe as something of an enigma. Wins over UC and UConn are good, but not as good as they would be most seasons. Losses to Florida and Villanova are both tempered by furious efforts to come back in games that could have been dead and buried. In between lie games that leave Musketeers fans still wondering exactly what this team is this season, beyond maddeningly inconsistent.

Team Fingerprint

SJU goes fast when they have the ball. Five teams in the nation have average possessions shorter than the Red Storm. As they speed along they focus on caring for the ball and collecting their misses, both of which they are on the cusp of elite at. This begins to overcome the fact that St. John’s shoots the ball very poorly. They mitigate their poor outside shooting (30.2%) by not shooting from there often, but they also struggle (47.2%) inside the arc.

On defense the Red Storm turn opponents over on nearly a quarter of their possessions. 13.7% of those turnovers come from steals, good for fourth in the nation. Mike Anderson’s guys are going to make having the ball an uncomfortable proposition, often for the entire length of the floor. They’ll also challenge every shot and block about 15% of them. All that pressure does leave SJU vulnerable to offensive rebounding, but other than that this is a very good defense.

Players

Starters

Starting matchups
Nick Rutherford Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Senior Class Senior
6'3", 185 Measurements 6'4", 194
6.1/2.8/3.3 Game line 7.9/2.7/3.8
41.3/21.1/70.4 Shooting line 39.2/34/55.6
An Indianapolis native, Rutherford spent two years at Florida Atlantic and a year at Monmouth before landing with the Johnnies. He's a little loose with the ball and not much of a shooter, but he distributes well. His calling card is his manic defense, which currently has him 8th in the nation with a steal% of 5%. That's not just a product of the St. John's press, either; he has always been a hound on the ball. He dropped 15 on Butler, the most he has scored since dropping 16 on UT Martin in November of 2016.
Mustapha Heron Shooting Guard Paul Scruggs
Senior Class Junior
6'5", 205 Measurements 6'4", 196
15/2.1/1.7 Game line 14.5/4.2/2.5
40.5/40.8/78.2 Shooting line 51/32.8/85
Heron has been the only member of the team immune from the boost in defensive numbers that the coaching change has brought, but he has made up for it by continuing to be a consistent volume scorer. He's a deadly threat from beyond the arc but just serviceable inside it, and his finishing numbers are a bit down this year. For a guy who shoots as many jumpers as he does, he also does a good job getting to and converting from the line. He thinks rebounding is for his teammates.
LJ Figueroa Small Forward Naji Marshall
Junior Class Junior
6'6", 200 Measurements 6'7", 222
14.4/4.9/2.2 Game line 16.4/5.6/3.3
38.3/37.7/70.2 Shooting line 44.6/25.8/69.1
Figueroa is having a down year offensively, and it's almost all down to his two-point numbers. He was an excellent finisher and very good from the mid-range last year; this year both of those numbers have fallen into the below-average range. He's still very secure with the ball and a very good three-point shooter, he's just struggling to get it done inside the arc. His defensive numbers have taken a tick up, particularly in that he's blocking a lot more shots now.
Julian Champagnie Power Forward Jason Carter
Freshman Class Junior
6'8", 215 Measurements 6'8", 227
9.7/6.4/0.6 Game line 7.1/5.3/1.9
46/27.6/77.4 Shooting line 40.5/30/86.7
Champagnie is very much a modern four, taking more than half his shots as jumpers. Though he has struggled from behind the arc, he's shooting a respectable 44% from the mid-range. He uses his length well to pester passing lanes and alter shots, and he's an excellent defensive rebounder. He adds value on offense by never turning the ball over and converting very well from the line.
Josh Roberts Center Tyrique Jones
Sophomore Class Senior
6'9", 205 Measurements 6'9", 239
7.1/8.1/1 Game line 13.3/10/1.3
59.7/0/41.2 Shooting line 51.9/0/61.3
Roberts is a limited offensive player who does well by playing within his limits. More than 70% of his shots come right at the rim, and nearly half of those come off of offensive rebounds. He can get away from the basket a little bit but isn't going to stretch a defense. He's a good rebounder at both ends, but especially on the offensive glass. He also happens to be one of the best rim protectors in the league with a block% of 10.9%, 27th in the nation.

Bench

Rasheem Dunn is a 6-2 junior guard who leads the SJU bench in minutes and chips in a handy 11.5/2.5/3.0 per game. He’s a genuinely bad shooter except from the line, and he gets there as often as he can. Greg Williams Jr is another 6-3 guard who can’t really shoot. Williams is very active on defense, though, and earns his 18 minutes per game on that end. The same could be said of Marcellus Earlington, a 6-6 forward who is in the top 500 in both block rate and steal rate and shoots the ball well inside the arc.

David Caraher is another 6-6 forward who is good inside the arc if limited outside it. Caraher is a 76% free throw shooter as well. Finally, Damien Sears has appeared in every game. Sears doesn’t do much well beyond turn the ball over, which he does a third of the time he touches it. This is a very deep team.

Three Questions

- Where can Xavier find some minutes? Dah Bishop is gone, and with him the hope that Xavier was going to get any deeper than eight guys this year. Daniel Ramsey isn’t playing any time soon, Dontarious James is essentially an urban legend at this point, and Leighton Schrand, God bless him, has returned to mop up duty. Either KyKy Tandy starts to really offer something, or the Musketeers have a two man bench.

- Blip or regression? Quentin Goodin had been excellent in the seven games leading up to Villanova but then went for 6/3/1 with four turnovers and an 0-2 mark from the line. When Q is playing well, the Musketeers are really hard to beat. A demonstration that the Nova game was just a slip up would set Xavier Nation at ease.

- Can Paul Scruggs rediscover his stroke? Scruggs was shooting 37% behind the arc before his current 2-9 slump. Xavier’s offense is elite on the rare occasions when someone, anyone, is making three pointers. If Scruggs can get that going in addition to his 63% shooting inside the arc, he becomes the floor spacer the team desperately needs.

Three Keys:

- Don’t let St. John’s just pack the paint: The Johnnies can be had from deep this year, albeit generally by teams that shoot the ball better than Xavier. Villanova packed it in against Xavier and dared them to keep force feeding the post or shoot from outside. X was excellent when they got the ball in the paint, but they turned it over on 20% of their possessions and shot 9% from deep. Against a swarming defense like St. John’s entry passes and post possession will become that much more difficult. Someone making a shot or two would go a long way toward easing that pressure.

- Play the foul game: St. John’s chases the ball, and with that comes a penchant for contact. Given 40 minutes of play Marcellus Earlington and Damien Sears would be long gone, and LJ Figueroa, Mustapha Heron, and Nick Rutherford wouldn’t be far behind. The Red Storm are deep, but they have the potential to get themselves in serious trouble.

- Don’t get swamped: 12-2, 13-2, 17-0. Those are the runs that Xavier has allowed in its three losses so far this year. The Musketeers have lost, generally speaking, because of a single lapse that has done them in as opposed to being ground down. SJU can score in bunches if they get rolling. If Xavier can keep that from happening, they are good enough to win the game.