Where: Lahaina Civic Center, Honolulu, HI
When: Monday, Nov. 23, 2:30 PM EST
TV: ESPN2 and the Watch ESPN app
Audio: 790 WNYM or the TuneIn app
Twitter: Follow @rumbleSBN for game updates
Last Meeting: St. John's beat the Commodores 59-54 on Nov. 29, 1977.
Fun Fact: St. John's won the 1970 Vanderbilt Invitational defeating Southern Methodist (95-80) and then Vanderbilt (85-81) for the title in Nashville.
Riding high off its hard-fought 16-point comeback win against Rutgers, St. John's arrives in the Aloha State with a stiff test tomorrow against an experienced and deep SEC foe that is poised to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. The Vanderbilt Commodores have won 10 of its last 12 games going back to last season and seven of its top nine scorers returned to Kevin Stallings's squad.
The Red Storm enters Monday's contest with the Commodores looking to improve to 4-0 for only the fifth time in the past 25 seasons.
St. John's Big East leading defense will be hard-pressed to stop Vandy's high-powered offensive attack buoyed by two 7-foot juniors. The Commodores are led by Damian Jones who was named to the 2015 Wooden Award Preseason Watch List. The center has averaged 11.7 points and 6.0 rebounds this season. With Jones manning the post, the Commodores other 7-footer, Luke Kornet, can stretch the floor on the perimeter. Kornet is averaging 10.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.7 blocks per game and is not shy about shooting threes.
In the backcourt, Vanderbilt plays a trio of sophomore guards led by Wade Baldwin IV (14.7 PPG), Riley LaChance (11 PPG) and Matthew Fisher-Davis (8.7 PPG). Key sophomore reserve Jeff Roberson (11.0 PPG) comes off the bench to provide a burst of instant offense, averaging only 17.5 minutes-per-game.
Vanderbilt is coming off a victory over Stony Brook on Thursday, escaping with a 79-72 victory in overtime. Baldwin led the Commodores with 21 points on 7-for-12 shooting in 37 minutes off the bench.
The Red Storm's swarming defense will need to slow down a Commodores offense that is averaging 85.7 points per game. St. John's has not allowed more than 59 points in its first three contests and leads the Big East, allowing only 56 points per game.
Keys to the Game
Do Everything Balamou: Senior guard Felix Balamou was positively everywhere versus Rutgers. SJU's Mr. Do-It-All showed out with eight points, 11 rebounds and seven assists—all career highs. To be effective against Vandy, Balamou needs to show that same tenacity on both ends of the floor, being the emotional leader, and staying out of foul trouble.
Mussini's Poise: So far freshman point guard Federico Mussini has showed remarkable composure through three games despite 47 total turnovers for the team. He leads the Red Storm in minutes and points, but will have his hands full defending the Commodores' bigger, quicker guards. He'll need to cut down on the turnovers and display a steady hand in leading SJU's pro-style motion offense.
Sima's Size: As a team virtually bereft of true size beyond 6-foot-11 freshman center Yankuba Sima, the Red Storm will need to play team defense and rotate quickly to help Sima defend Vandy's twin towers. Sima's been a bright spot for the Red Storm through three games, averaging 9.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and four blocks while shooting 61 percent from the field and 87 percent from the stripe. With those numbers St. John's simply needs to keep Sima on the floor as long as possible, and that will be a (pun intended) tall task.
Game Prediction: In order to run with Vanderbilt for a full 40 minutes the Red Storm must not get rattled by what should be a high octane offensive assault. On offense Ron Mvuoika (two double-doubles in three games) needs to create his own shot, while Durand Johnson needs to exhibit better shot selection. This matchup is a daunting one for the still-growing and maturing Red Storm, but it will serve as an important gauge of how the team plays in the face of elite competition. At this point, Vanderbilt is just simply a better team, but with the Red Storm coalescing around last week's come-from-behind team-bonding win against Rutgers, and perhaps inspired by the beauty of the Big Island so far from Jamaica, New York's concrete jungle, the Red Storm will look to stay competitive for as long as possible.
Final Prediction: 74-62 Vanderbilt