Surprisingly, after a St. John's win over rival Syracuse - with an undermanned team, in the Garden - the Red Storm season isn't finished. There are three games in five days before Big East Conference play starts with a New Year's Eve tilt against Creighton, chances to improve the team's cohesion - or chances to show how far this team still needs to go despite stirring wins.
The next opponent is the University of Incarnate Word, a former Division II team from San Antonio, Texas, on a two-game road trip to New York. (The UIW Cardinals will play LIU-Brooklyn four days after the St. John's game.)
Despite the 77-point per game scoring average of Incarnate Word, the opponent isn't great by the numbers, but a poor shooting outing… or a bad turnover afternoon… can sink the Johnnies in this one.
The Red Storm will be working in 6'6" Malik Ellison back from injury; he was an integral part of the squad in the first couple of games, providing spot shooting and ballhandling for the Red Storm. His addition adds even more depth to the backcourt positions... as St. John's also hopes to get back point guard Marcus LoVett.
Where: Carnesecca Arena, Queens, NY
When: Friday, December 18th, 2015, 7:00 PM
How to Watch: Fox Sports One or Fox Sports Go
How to Listen: 970 AM - WNYM or via the TuneIn App.
Twitter: Follow @rumbleSBN for game updates
Last Meeting: [First meeting]
Fun Fact: NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson holds a Masters in Administration focused on organizational development, from Incarnate Word - to help his business and educational ventures.
Scouting Incarnate Word - the art of the steal
Mike Burmeister's Cardinals are no strangers to big upsets. Last season the Cardinals traveled to Lincoln Nebraska and defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Granted, that Cornhusker team was disappointing last season, but incarnate Word put themselves in a place to knock off a Big Ten team.
This season the Cardinals have lost a number of critical players, but still play a style that could be dangerous to St. John's. They shoot a lot of three pointers (40% of their attempts), and force a lot of turnovers (on 25% of opponent possessions against D-1 teams). Against Purdue, the Cardinals forced 22 turnovers - though they lost (to one of the nation's best teams in the early season).
On the other side of the equation, however, is the new Southland Conference team's poor record the season. They are 3-5; I respectable enough record for a low–level team playing a number of buy games, including at Purdue, at California, and at Oklahoma.
But this team has also lost to Sacramento State, and to something called Our Lady of the Lake University, an NAIA team also located in San Antonio. The three wins have been over non-Division I teams Texas Lutheran, Schreiner and Dallas Christian.
The Cardinals are aggressive on defense and smart with the basketball, but they are also very, very undersized - and are currently the worst in the nation at scoring inside the arc and preventing scoring inside the arc against Division I teams.
Senior Kyle Hittle, who is 6'5", and sophomore Jontrell Walker (6'1") pace the Cardinals with 16.5 points/ game and 15.1 points/ game, respectively. Both take more than half of their shots from beyond the three-point line; Walker is shooting 31% and Hittle 42% from beyond the arc. Also in the backcourt is point guard Mitchell Badillo, a 5'9" guard averaging 5.4 assists per game - with a 3.6 assist/ turnover ratio. Each of those players average over 3.5 steals per game.
Derail Green, a 6'7" junior, provides a semblance of an interior presence. But the team's best rebounder is 6'4" sophomore Shawn Johnson, so St. John's should look to go inside with Christian Jones, Yankuba Sima and Kassoum Yakwe.
Keys to the Game
Don't overlook the Cardinals
St. John's struggled to handle lowly Niagara the last time the team played at Carnesecca, with Federico Mussini and Felix Balamou credited with five turnovers each. Expect more pressure from the outset from Incarnate Word than Syracuse provided; St. john's has to handle that pressure and end fewer possessions with a turnover. The Red Storm are one of the worst teams in the country at turnover percentage, giving up the ball on almost 22% of their possessions, 323rd in the nation.
The Red Storm should look to drive and dish inside to the big men, to post up whenever possible, and otherwise use their size advantage to both deter Incarnate Word and to dictate the pace and style of play.
The Johnnies are improving incrementally on both sides of the ball, culminating in a high-energy defensive effort against the Syracuse Orange. The Johnnies need to keep attacking on defense, forcing steams, bad passes and blocking shots.
St. John's stays focused, turns the Cardinals blue, winning 72-65.