St. John's fans and players have been anticipating Friday night's tip off against the Wisconsin Badgers for so long, it feels like a myth. But now, the road to Dallas and the Final Four begins. It's so close we can almost taste it.
"Who's the better team on paper?" isn't the question. "Who won?" will be.
Wisconsin Badgers head coach Bo Ryan stated that it is sometimes difficult to get teams to come to Madison in November and December, "so it was a no-brainer to play a team from a major conference in a neutral-court setting."
Tip-off time is scheduled for 7 p.m on the Big Ten Network. St. John's who received three votes to be ranked in the preseason AP Top 25, has an opportunity to possibly make a jump into the Top 25 with a win. This game has been stapled in their mind since the summer.
"We're ready to be set loose," junior guard Phil Greene IV said. "We've been practicing hard - long days, two-a-days and early mornings to be ready for that game. Coach [Lavin] wants us to come out and make a statement."
That statement won't be easy.
Scouting St. John's - what's different?
Even with new players Rysheed Jordan, Orlando Sanchez and Max Hooper, we don't know how different the Red Storm will be. We know that those three and suspended Chris Obekpa - who returns tomorrow - will vie for minutes in the rotation.
Look for Lavin to stay with the starting lineup he used in the two exhibitions, but to play Chris Obekpa substantial minutes.
The big man rotation of Obekpa, Orlando Sanchez, Jakarr Sampson, and God'sgift Achiuwa will be the main key to victory against the smaller Wisconsin, who have been using a three-guard lineup of Josh Gasser, Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson to start games.
Bo Ryan stated that, the Johnnies are a "great RPI team," meaning that playing the Red Storm will look good in March. "They’ve got everybody back, they’re very athletic. It’s a team that’s going to make some noise," Ryan added.
Scouting the Badgers
In order for St. John's bigs to score, somebody has to give it to them in the paint. The Johnnies backcourt is going to have to take care of the ball against this great Wisconsin defense. Under Bo Ryan, the Badgers have been at the top of the Big Ten in defense. And no surprise, they were number one in the Big Ten in points against, holding points to 55.9 points.
The Badgers are a fundamentally sound team who take a ton of pride in their man-to-man defense and their grind it out style in their swing offense. Wisconsin will usually not blow you away with talent, but Bo Ryan puts a capable team on the floor who can take of the basketball, control the pace, and win ball games.
"Bo Ryan has a keen ability to inculcate his way of thinking the game, seeing the game and playing the game into his players," Lavin said earlier this year. His eyes are on tomorrow night, a chance for the your Red Storm to blossom onto the national stage.
The Johnnies will have to keep an eye out for sophomore swingman Sam Dekker on Friday night. Dekker, a five-star/ top-25 recruit coming out of high school saw around twenty minutes a game, didn't really get his chance to shine in his freshman year, scoring 9.6 points per game for the senior-laden Badgers.
Forwards Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans, who played in front of him, are gone. Now Dekker will now get a ton of playing time and it will be his time to shine next to inside-out forward Frank Kaminsky. He is very similar to Jakarr Sampson (good matchup to watch for) in which they are both long, athletic, and can shoot a jump-shot. Unlike JaKarr Sampson, he is very good at shooting threes (39% last year).
Some have gone as far to claim that he is a sleeper to win Big Ten Player of the Year. Even if you're a sleeper to win instead of the favorite, you're probably worth paying attention to.
Prediction: St. John's 64 Wisconsin 60. It will be a slow grind-it-out game just like Wisconsin wants. (Sorry, I had to pick the Johnnies.)