For the 50th time in history, the St. John’s Red Storm will partake in Madison Square Garden’s Holiday Festival.
“It's a treat.” Remarked Chris Mullin when asked about playing at Madison Square Garden. “Every basketball player loves to play at Madison Square Garden, [but] it's important you prepare. Just because you walk in there doesn't mean you perform well; you have to stay focused. Our preparation will be good and hopefully we'll go out there and have a good performance."
The Johnnies are looking to get to .500 before heading up north to Syracuse. For this to occur, they must get back to playing like they did before their Brooklyn debacle.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (5-6) vs Penn State Nittany Lions (6-5)
What: MSG Holiday Festival; Rutgers and Fordham will round out the doubleheader event.
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
When: Sunday, December 18th, 11:00 AM ET
TV: Fox Sports 1 or Fox Sports Go.
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 970 AM WNYM.
Tickets: Secure your seat by clicking here.
Fun Fact: Penn State reached the 1954 Final Four, before losing to La Salle by a 69-54 score.
Scouting Penn State
KenPom ranks St. John’s and Penn State very close to each other. The Nittany Lions occupy the 123 spot, while St. John’s is positioned as the 116th best team in America.
"They're a similar team to us. When they play well, they are really good.” Coach Mullin told reporters in regard to Penn State. “They're on the younger side. Their roster is young like ours, so I think it'll be an evenly matched game."
Defensively, Penn State often leans on their man principles. So far this season they have done a nice job creating turnovers, forcing bad shots, and blocking opposing shots.
On the other side of the court, Penn State has struggled to consistently and effectively score. While they do make their free-throws and value the basketball, the Nittany Lions at the same time get few second-chance opportunities, and often fail on their first shot.
Despite struggles, players like junior guard Shep Garner can cause serious harm to the St. John’s defense. This season he is averaging 15 points and 3 assists per game. In conjunction, Garner has been able to convert on 40% of his field goals and 85% of his free-throw attempts.
Freshman forward Lamar Stevens can also make a big impact in this game. So far this season he has averaged per contest, 12 points and 6 rebounds. He is incredibly effective from the charity stripe as well. Stevens leads all Nittany Lions in free-throw percentage and free-throw attempts.
Philadelphia native Mike Watkins can give opposing big men fits all game long. He averages per game 10 points and 8 rebounds. He has also blocked 37 shots this year and 3 per contest. That is good enough to recognize him as the 7th best shot blocker in Division I basketball.
Overall, Penn State could be topped if St. John’s can knock down their three-point chances, get and convert free-throw opportunities, and play defense without fouling. St. John’s is capable of doing all three of those things, and beating Penn State.
Keys to the contest
Keep shooing three-pointers: Chris Mullin has transformed St. John’s into one of the best three-point shooting teams in America. The Johnnies lead the Big East and are 10th in the nation with almost 11 three-point makes per game.
Penn State’s defense around the arc this season has been suspect. St. John’s must exploit this Nittany Lion weakness to succeed on Sunday.
Avoid Fouling: Penn State is the 6th best free-throw shooting team in the nation. Almost everyone on their team has the ability to score from the charity stripe.
St. John’s can’t allow uncontested scoring chances dictate what is expected to be a close game.
Cut down on turnovers: St. John’s will enter this game averaging 14 turnovers per contest. Those turnovers create many fast break opportunities for opponents. In a close game, a turnover here or there could be the difference. St. John’s doesn’t want to be that team with a late and costly turnover.
Penn State is a very beatable foe, as they have yet to show much more than St. John’s. Winnable games like these need to start going in the Johnnies favor for their program to take the next step. Don't bet your house on St. John’s, but also don't be surprised if they gut this one out.
Final Prediction: 70-66 St. John’s