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Xavier @ St. John’s: preview, matchups, keys to the game

The Muskies had the weekend off; now it’s time to see if they can keep riding their bubble momentum through a tough trip to MSG.

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Xavier
Half a dozen bombs from Kyky would be dope.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

This game probably means more to Xavier than it does St. John's. The Muskies are at 5-7 in conference, 7th in the league, a game and a half back of Providence and Butler. More importantly, they're on the right side of the NCAA bubble. It's not Selection Sunday yet though, and there are still miles to go before the field is set. A team's resume could be burnished in the next month, or it could fall apart entirely.

St. John's doesn't have a resume to protect. They're 14-11 and adrift of the at-large conversation; their path to the tournament consists of winning the Big East's automatic bid. They can make their path easier by finishing above 7th in the league, but - at 3-9 in the Big East - they've got a lot of work to do to make that happen. That would start with a win against Xavier; a loss in this game means they'll almost surely end up needing four wins in MSG in March.

It beats noting that St. John's is coming into this one a little hamstrung, as Mustapha Heron is out with an ankle injury. Not only is he their most efficient perimeter scorer, he's also their best shooter and a dude who spent a lot of time generating offense. X held him to 11 the last time these teams played; now that defensive energy is freed up to be directed elsewhere.

Team fingerprint

Defense is what keeps these guys in games, specifically turnover defense. They're tops in the league in TO% by a fair margin thanks to their 40 minutes of hell style of pressing. If they don't force a turnover, however, their defense is fairly hopeless. They foul a lot, don't rebound well, and don't force difficult shots. They sell out to force a turnover; barring that, they catch the ball when it falls out the bottom of the net.

On offense, they really need to play good defense. Their best chance of scoring is off of a turnover; they're less successful in the half court. Their EFG% in transition is 52.5%, more than 6 points higher than their overall mark. They're last in the league in EFG% and free throw rate and 8th in OReb%. They take care of the ball well, but that's about the only thing their offense is getting done at this point.



Starting matchups
Rasheem Dunn Point Guard Paul Scruggs
Junior Class Junior
6'2", 190 Measurements 6'4", 196
12.5/3.8/3.3 Game line 12.9/4.5/2.7
37.6/22.7/77.9 Shooting line 46.6/35/70.5
The Johnnies are 3-6 since Dunn stepped into the starting lineup to give them a pure point. He distributes well and has good ball security numbers, but he can't shoot from anywhere other than the free throw line. Having a dude with a 40.7% EFG% take the second-most shots on the team doesn't do wonders for their offensive profile. Dunn will stay active in the passing lanes, but he doesn't create as many turnovers as most of his teammates.
Greg Williams Jr. Shooting Guard Naji Marshall
Sophomore Class Junior
6'3", 200 Measurements 6'7", 222
4.4/2.6/1.9 Game line 16.2/5.9/3.7
36.6/23.7/63.9 Shooting line 43.5/30.7/69.6
Williams has only begun starting since Mustapha Heron went down with an ankle injury. He's not a great shooter - think something around the Henry Baddely level - and doesn't distribute much. He is 6th in the conference in steal rate, so mind your pockets.
LJ Figueroa Small Forward Jason Carter
Junior Class Junior
6'6", 200 Measurements 6'8", 227
14.9/4.5/2.2 Game line 6.7/5.2/1.4
39.2/36.4/67.5 Shooting line 38.7/23.9/73.8
Figueroa is the Red Storm's leading scorer, but it's more by volume than efficiency. He can be dangerous if left alone from behind the arc, but he's mediocre around the rim and shoots too many two-point jumpers for a guy connecting on just 30% of them. He's very active on defense, but he can be prone to foul trouble.
Julian Champagnie Power Forward Zach Freemantle
Freshman Class Freshman
6'8", 215 Measurements 6'9", 225
8.8/6.3/0.8 Game line 7/3.9/0.4
46.7/28.6/78.7 Shooting line 48.9/40/78.3
This guy has risen from a fairly unheralded signing for St. John's to an immediate impact big man. Part of that is down to being listed at 6'5" or 6'6" in most recruiting profiles before growing a couple inches to the 6'8" that shows up in the program, but it's also down to his hustle. He's the team's best rebounder on the defensive end and is active both in passing lanes and rim protection. He has a decent jumper but is mostly a threat around the rim.
Josh Roberts Center Tyrique Jones
Sophomore Class Senior
6'9", 205 Measurements 6'9", 239
5.4/5.9/0.9 Game line 13.7/11.1/1.5
57.3/0/31 Shooting line 55.6/0/59.3
Roberts isn't a guy the Johnnies look to throw the ball to. He's in the lineup to provide defensive solidity at the back and clean up the boards. Only 10 of his made buckets are jumpers, and more than a third of his shots at the rim are putbacks. He's an excellent shot blocker and stays out of foul trouble.


St. John’s gets almost 40% of their minutes from the bench, far and away the most in the league and 19th-most in the nation.

Marcellus Earlington is a 6’6” forward who comes off the bench for 8.8/4.6/0.6 per game. He’s an excellent offensive rebounder and generates a lot of turnovers, but he’s foul prone. Guard Nick Rutherford is 9th in the country in steal percentage, but I’m sorry to report he’s basically useless on offense. His ORtg of 74.4 in conference is one of the lesser numbers you’re going to see and limits his effectiveness even with his defensive prowess taken into consideration.

David Caraher gets some run at the forward positions but isn’t excelling in any one area. He’s efficient thanks to making his free throws and never turning the ball over, but - the 17 he dropped on UMass aside - he isn’t going to light up the box score. Damien Sears is the Dontarius James of St. John’s.

Three questions

-How much can Xavier afford to play Q? It brings me absolutely no joy to type this question. The reality is, though, that since Big East play began, Goodin’s turnover rate is 26.3%; nobody else on the team’s is over 21%. To meet their potential, Xavier needs Goodin to be a steady hand at the point guard position. To win this game, the Muskies need five guys on the floor who won’t turn the ball over. Right now, Q doesn’t meet that description.

-Can Xavier avoid the big run? They couldn’t last time out against Butler, when they surrendered two long runs to allow the Bulldogs to keep the game out of touching distance. St. John’s, meanwhile, thrives on runs, ripping off 17-3 against Providence, 13-2 (in 3 minutes!) at DePaul, and 10-0 (in 2 minutes!) home to DePaul in their three conference wins. The Johnnies can put up points in bunches with their pressure defense; Xavier is one hiccup away from chasing the game all night at MSG.

-Who controls the tempo? St. John’s plays at about 73 possessions per game, 21st fastest in D1. Xavier plays at just shy of 67, more than 200 spots slower. In those six possessions is probably an accurate barometer of how this one goes; the more trips up and down the floor start piling up, the less things are going the way X wants them to.

Three keys

-Protect the ball. St. John’s is in the bottom three in the league in EFG%, DReb%, and defensive free throw rate. Despite that, they have the fourth best defensive efficiency in the Big East. That’s all down to turning opponents over on nearly a quarter of their possessions. If they don’t force a turnover, they aren’t good at forcing misses, avoiding fouling, or killing possessions on the glass. Everything in this game flows out of ball security for Xavier.

-Keep the game in the half court. The Johnnies offense is dead last in EFG% and free throw rate and they’re pretty poor on the offensive glass. Xavier, on the other hand, has been absolutely suffocating on the defensive end over the last 7 games or so. I’m not certain that St. John’s can score against Xavier in the half court, and I’m positive they can’t do it regularly. If X can make the Red Storm try to attack a set defense, the home team is in trouble.

-Dominate the glass. Since January 21st, Xavier has been second in the Big East in OReb% and far and away first in DReb%. In that same time, St. John’s has been 6th in DReb% in 8th in OReb%. The Muskies should be able to harvest extra chances on one end and hold the Johnnies to one-and-done on the other end. Basketball is a simple game. Xavier simply has to execute.