At 7-9, the Red Storm have not yet folded up the tents emotionally. It's only been three games of an 18 game league season, but the fight the Johnnies have shown is not just admirable, but it was almost effective against Xavier. On Wednesday, the Red Storm were a possession away from the lead late when a referee's whistle blew, giving a tech to a frustrated Federico Mussini and giving the Musketeers enough cushion to escape a night where St. John's inexplicably nipped at their heels.
Granted, each opponent is different; a good matchup can happen even between a supposedly great team and a struggling team. But there is hope. And next up is a Marquette team thats strong, especially in the post - but also one of the youngest teams in the country, susceptible to turnovers and low-value shots.
That's the hopeful view. The less hopeful view is that the Red Storm are playing their third true road game of the season, will be facing a twin-tower pairing, a team that can force turnovers, and St. John's can really make scoring the basketball look hard. And Marquette defeated Providence in Providence - the place where St. John's were beaten by 18 points last Saturday.
And Yankuba Sima hurt his hand in the first half of the Xavier game; his status is unknown.
But when St. John's wins its first league game, it's going to be because the development in the freshmen is starting to pay off, and the defense will cause enough frustration and turnovers to keep them within striking distance.
Or the team will all have a hot day shooting threes.
Game Information/ How to watch
Where: BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI (capacity: 18,600)
When: Saturday, January 9th, 2:00 PM
TV: FSN/ Yes Network
Radio: 570 AM WMCA | TuneIn App
Last Meeting: St. John's torched the nets from the outside and defeated the Golden Eagles, 67-51, last March.
Fun Fact: Downtown Milwaukee has a bronze statue of the Happy Days character The Fonz on the Riverwalk.
Under head coach Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette is 11-4 on the season, but that 11-4 came against some of Division I's worst teams. (Look at the recent records for Maine, San Jose State, and Grambling State. Ouch.) So it's hard to say just how good the team is.
But the Golden Eagles have talented youth and they have height.
The big man pair of freshman Henry Ellenson and Luke Fischer are averaging 30 points and 18 rebounds per game. Ellenson is a monstrously good rebounder, a player likely to leave for the pro ranks earlier. He also has a little bit of range on his shot.
In the backcourt, freshman Traci Carter - who played high school ball at Life Center with St. John's freshman Malik Ellison - is a deft passer, averaging nearly five assists per game (assisting on 32% of his team's made shots), and is joined by a lengthy and talented set of players - sophomore Duane Wilson, junior wing JaJuan Johnson, wing Sandy Cohen, and wing Haanif Cheatham. Cheatham and Cohen can shoot from distance a bit.
The worry for St. John's has to be how to get good shots inside the arc against such a long team. The Golden Eagles allowed 46% shooting on two-pointers in conference play; St. John's struggles to get to the rim and shoots quite a few two-pointers. The Eagles also are strong at forcing turnovers (best in league play so far).
The Red Storm have to find a way to get into the flow of their offense, and work the ball inside as well as out.
Keys to the Game
Protect the ball
St. John's has gotten much better at protecting the ball, with a turnover rate of 17% of their possessions in league play (the rate was 20% before). But a certain amount of boldness is needed to make the passes the team needs to make to get good shots at the rim. St. John's has to match ball protection (and taking shots) with aggressive play to get good shots and draw fouls.
Henry Ellenson, in particular, has a tendency to want to show off his shooting range, despite being very effective right at the rim. The Red Storm have to attack him early on defense and keep him far from the post - where he can take a deeper shot instead of bulling his way straight to the hoop.
Hit some threes
St. John's won't be able to win this game just working the ball into the paint. And the team gets great looks outside the arc. It's time for the players to sink some of those shots. The Red Storm have shot 24% from the three-point line in league play... and that won't win any games unless their post play is truly amazing on offense.
Another good effort, but it's a road game. St. John's loses, 77-67.