St. John’s will travel to Minnesota on Friday night as a part of the annual Gavitt Tipoff Games. This Big Ten versus Big East challenge honors the late Dave Gavitt, who founded the Big East conference.
This will be a huge test for a young St. John’s team. Although they have looked much improved through two games, these Johnnies have yet to play an opponent of Minnesota’s caliber, nor have they been on the road. Victory here and fans may start eyeballing postseason berths, potentially in the NIT.
"The schedule is laid out the way it is. We know that's been coming. We've been preparing well.” Said Chris Mullin to reporters after the Binghamton game. “These next games will be a step up physically. The [Big 10] is a physical conference, it always has been. We'll prepare and get ready for it. I've told this team that when you're on the road, you really need each other."
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (2-0) versus Minnesota Golden Gophers (3-0)
Where: Williams Arena, Minneapolis, Minnesota
When: Friday, November 18th, 9:00 PM ET
TV: Big Ten Network; channel guide can be found by clicking here.
Audio: St. John’s TV All-Access will provide free audio for the contest. That station can be found by clicking here. Also live game audio can be found on 570 WMCA.
Twitter: Follow @rumbleSBN and @StJohnsBBall for updates.
Last Meeting: On November 26th of 2014, St. John’s beat Minnesota 70-61 in the NIT Season Tip-Off Semifinals.
Head coach Richard Pitino enters his fourth season at the helm of Golden Gophers basketball program. Expectations were high when he took the gig, considering his moderate success at Florida International, and the fact his father is a coaching legend. Expectations grew increasingly larger following a NIT Championship in year one at Minnesota.
Unfortunately, the next two years following that NIT title amounted to very little for the Gophers.
This season, Richard Pitino looks to get this program back to relevancy in the always-competitive Big Ten.
That feat seemed much more out of reach after a gloomy offseason. Pitino found himself handling the transfer of former four-star recruit Kevin Dorsey, and the arrest of junior center Reggie Lynch. Listed at 6-foot-9, Lynch was arrested and accused on charges of sexual assault. He avoided charges, and made his way back onto the Gophers basketball roster.
Amidst the haze and confusion that was Minnesota’s offseason, there is still some optimism in Minneapolis.
For one, junior guard Nate Mason gives Gopher supporters to be excited. Last season he lead Minnesota in scoring, averaging 14 points per game along with 5 assists and a solid field goal percentage of 39%. Through three games this season he is averaging 14 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds per game while shooting 43% from the field. Queens native Dupree McBrayer, who St. John’s recruited, will also look to make a perimeter impact.
Sophomore forward Jordan Murphy is another sturdy piece on this Gopher roster. Last year he appeared in every game and averaged 12 points and 8 rebounds per game. These formidable statistics earned him recognition; he was named to the Big Ten’s All-Freshman Team. If Murphy can develop a more of a jump shot and a penetration aspect to his offensive game, he could be a professional talent.
The aforementioned Reggie Lynch is a big rebounding body inside at 6’9”, 260, and the team has gotten strong rebounding from freshman Eric Curry, who is 6’9” 235.
Bottom line on this Gophers team, they lack the experience and depth to be a real contender in the Big Ten conference. Despite this, they should improve upon their 8-win season from a year ago. And they will be a challenge for St. John’s.
What to watch
St. Guards: Last time out, the Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds duo combined for 44 points, 14 rebounds, and 8 assists in that game. Coach Chris Mullin had this to say about the young guards gelling:
"Marcus has great speed and Shamorie has great instincts and is deceptively quick. When they beat their man they know whether to go finish the basket or where the next guy is going to be. They have good spacing and understand their teammates. They move the ball very well. If a team moves the ball and shares the ball, the team is going to be fine. It's not so much the lineup, it's what they are doing out there."
St. John’s success this year will start and end with their guards. So far, LoVett and Ponds have been up to the challenge. The Johnnies need to keep these two going if they are going to beat Minnesota.
Keep scoring: Through two games, St. John’s is averaging just about 89 points per contest. The last time St. John’s scored more points through two games was in 1998-99. Supporters in Queens may remember that 1999 team which advanced all the way to the Elite Eight.
St. John’s needs to keep the pressure on Minnesota by scoring the basketball. Richard Pitino teams have been notorious for allowing opponents to shoot well from both behind the arc and at the charity stripe.
The Johnnies need to exploit both these areas, and try to run up the pace of the game - to negate the Gophers’ size advantage inside.
Win the turnover battle: In any sport, turning the ball over to an opponent is very dangerous and sometimes detrimental when trying to win games. Last season the Johnnies had issues creating more turnovers than committing them. Through two games this season, however, they have caused more turnovers than committed, and that must continue for St. John’s to win.
This contest should be very close all the way through, a turnover here or there could decide it. St. John’s has to make sure that crucial changes of possession go to the Red Storm - and that the players capitalize on most opportunities.
I’d give Minnesota a slight advantage heading into this matchup. Although both teams are young and have a lot to learn, St. John’s may not be quite prepared to go on the road and win against a somewhat more-established program.
Final Prediction: 80-72 Gophers