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

These teams have combined to play one game since Christmas Eve. I’d imagine they’re both itching to get into it.

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Seton Hall Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

After packing games in like it was going out of style early in the season, Xavier has spent more time sitting around not playing than anyone would like recently. The Muskies have played just once since Christmas, and that outing was to get it completely fed to them on their home court by Seton Hall. That loss dropped Xavier to 8-2, which isn’t horrible, but it left them with more questions than answers should they get back to ball. God only knows what a good resume will be come March, but the Seton Hall game at least represents an opportunity lost.

St. John’s has also played 10 games, but they’re at just 6-4 on the season. They’ve had four games in tiers A and B on the KenPom and have yet to take a win from them. the Johnnies have already played Georgetown twice and split them, but they’re just 1-3 overall in the league. Their win against Georgetown came on December 20, which was the last time they played.

Team fingerprint

It’s about two things for St. Johns: defense and tempo. Let’s start with the defense.

St. John’s flies around on the defensive end, contesting every foot of the floor and generally looking to create chaos. They’re top-30 in the nation in turnover rate and top-10 in live-ball steals. They manage to play about league average in fouls and are just a hair below that in defensive rebounding. Where they really struggle is in defensive EFG%, where they’re 325th in the country. They sell out for turnovers, and if they don’t get them, they’re in poor position to contest shots.

On offense, they just go really fast, hoping to create quick transitions from their hectic style of defending. Only 10 teams are quicker in terms of offensive possession length. They’re a very average shooting team, but they have excellent ball security and hold their own on the glass. They only take about 30% of their shots from behind the arc, which is outside the top 300 in the country. If it comes down to winning time, they cash out on almost 3 of every 4 free throw attempts as a team.

Players

Starters

Starting matchups
Posh Alexander Point Guard Dwon Odom
Freshman Class Freshman
6'0", 205 Measurements 6'1", 180
10.1/3.4/4.2 Game line 6.1/3.3/4.6
48.7/23.1/78.6 Shooting line 45.5/0/69.2
Alexander is 10" shorter than St. John's center and weighs the same; he's a thick lad. He's also a relentless slasher, shooting 33-52 at the rim and just 5-26 on all jumpers. Turnovers are an issue for him, but he's a solid distributor and a very active defender.
Greg Williams Jr. Shooting Guard Paul Scruggs
Junior Class Senior
6'3", 200 Measurements 6'4", 196
12.9/2.7/3.1 Game line 14.8/3.6/6.8
50/44.4/72.5 Shooting line 48.2/37.8/80.6
In addition to being a knockdown catch-and-shoot artists, Williams also has a decent amount of slashing in his game. He'll pull up with a solid mid-range stroke and can get all the way to the rim, where he's a good finisher. In addition, he defends like a demon in the Johnnies' press. He doesn't rebound, pass, or turn the ball over at noteworthy levels.
Vince Cole Small Forward Nate Johnson
Junior Class Senior
6'6", 185 Measurements 6'4", 195
11.7/3.1/1.2 Game line 12/4.2/1.5
45.2/35/82.6 Shooting line 45.3/50.9/93.3
Cole is a really good piece for the team, neatly bridging the gap between the frontcourt and the guards. He's more of a pull-up guy than someone who will go all the way to the rim, but he hits more than half of his mid-range attempts. He struggled a bit to find his footing in conference play, but he dropped 17 on 5-11 shooting against Georgetown last time out.
Julian Champagnie Power Forward Jason Carter
Sophomore Class Senior
6'8", 220 Measurements 6'8", 227
20.3/7.5/2 Game line 7.5/7.4/1.7
46.3/38.1/88.9 Shooting line 43.1/21.4/65
Stud. Champagnie had a very good freshman year, but he has hit a crazy stride as a sophomore. He's a deep threat, a good finisher, a good rebounder at both ends, and a good defender in terms of blocking shots and forcing turnovers. His not a good distributor and his mid-range is meh, but beyond that... I mean, he's even cash from the line and doesn't commit fouls. He's just a really good player.
Isaih Moore Center Zach Freemantle
Junior Class Sophomore
6'10", 205 Measurements 6'9", 225
10.4/5.5/0.7 Game line 16.7/7.7/1.6
51.2/23.1/79.2 Shooting line 56.5/41.2/54.2
Moore's has started 8 of 10 games and his minutes have been all over the place. He played 32 against Georgetown, but then a total of 33 in St. John's next two games. Some of the problem has been foul trouble, but some just appears to be the coach's decisions. He's a good rebounder at both ends and defends the rim well. He also does the little things well, avoiding turnovers and cashing out from the line.

Reserves

About a third of St. John’s minutes come off the bench, which is a meaningless separation from national average.

The first big off the bench is Marcellus Earlington, who stands 6’6” and weighs in at 240. He’s averaging 6.8/3.5/1 per game. He’s a good defensive rebound and occasional shooting threat from deep. Dylan Addae-Wusu is a big (6’4”, 235) freshman wing averaging 6/2.4/2.7. He’s actually tied with Posh Alexander for the team lead in assist rate, but he commits 6.4 fouls per 40 minutes.

Rasheem Dunn had a solid year as a junior last season, but he has had trouble finding his feet this year. He has 16 assists against just 5 turnovers, but he is still coming back from an injury he picked up in the first game of the year. Perhaps the lay off will have done him some good.

Arnaldo Toro and Josh Roberts merit mention because they’ve each started at least one game, but they’re combining to average just 4 points in 20 minutes as reserve big men on the year.

Three questions

-Whom does the layoff hurt more? Xavier looked unequipped to compete against Seton Hall last time out and will not have been encouraged by that showing, but it’s not clear that St. John’s fares any better for having sat since December 20th. Being rusty against a team that presses as hard as the Johnnies isn’t ideal, but it takes sharpness and game fitness to make a press anything other than a system for allowing easy baskets. Whichever team has more trouble hitting a stride is going to be hurting tonight.

-Can Xavier make shots? The Muskies have gone as their shooting has this year, and the last couple of games it hasn’t been up to par. Coach Steele said the offense was good enough to beat Seton Hall if the defense hadn’t been hot garbage (paraphrase), but that 5-24 showing from deep really hamstrung the team’s output. There will be shots to be had against the St. John’s press; it’s just a matter of execution for Xavier to turn them into points.

-Who dictates tempo? The press is obviously the big thing, but keeping St. John’s out of transition will be vital for Xavier. On makes and misses, the Muskies have to get back and make their opponent play half-court offense. When the press is broken, Xavier will have to decide between whatever shot presents itself and pulling the ball out and making the Red Storm defend for 20-25 seconds.

Three keys

-Show some toughness. Coach Steele pointed out in the press conference that Seton Hall was the tougher squad at Cintas a week ago, and he made the team watch the whole game in film study to reiterate that point. The vein of toughness has run through the middle of the floor, from even before the time of RaShid Gaston and Jalmesean O’Farrnolds on right through Tyrique Jones. Jason Carter has a bit of it in him, but he’s going to need the big men around him to step up and stake a claim to being the meaner dogs if Xavier wants to perform to its potential this year.

-Defend in numbers. St. John’s is a team designed to play in transition; they post a 55.6% EFG% in transition, more than 5 points better than their overall mark. If they can’t get a bucket in the first 10 seconds of the play, they’re a much less effective offensive team. It’s not always super exciting to watch, but Xavier will be well-served to sacrifice numbers on the offensive glass to commit to getting back and defending early. If they can make St. John’s play 5-on-5, the game tilt’s in X’s favor.

-Play 40 minutes. In their two losses this year, Xavier has held leads of 17-5 and 20-14 before scoring 9 and 8 points, respectively, in the 10 minute periods before the half. There aren’t teams you can take breaks against in the Big East, and Xavier has gone to great lengths to demonstrate that fact lately. A complete effort tonight would be a big step forward for the team.