Our guess is that this will not be some 54-50 game at Madison Square Garden. It will not be a defensive rockfight, nor will we be in awe of the low post moves and drop steps on display.
The St. John’s Red Storm game against Marquette will be a new school, guard-oriented speed fest, filled with three-pointers, crazy transition shots - it will be caffeine for the weary.
If everything goes right, of course. Teams that depend on the three can have poor shooting days.
Still, the game should be an exciting one. Both teams are coming off of losses - Marquette to Providence (after beating #1 ranked Villanova) and St. John’s falling to Xavier by five. A team might reach 100 points. But can St. John’s defend well enough - and shoot well enough - to be on the right side of the high-paced game?
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (10-13, 4-6 Big East) vs Marquette Golden Eagles (14-7, 5-4 Big East)
What: Big East Conference Game
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
When: Wednesday, February 1st, 7:00 PM ET
TV: Fox Sports 2 or Fox Sports Go
Audio: St. John’s TV All-Access will provide free audio for the contest. You can also use Tune In radio, reachable here. Also live game audio can be found on 570 WNYM.
Tickets: Still available.
Twitter: Follow along on Twitter @rumbleSBN
Fun Fact: Marquette is celebrating their 100th season of college basketball this year.
You know how St. John’s likes to play fast, uptempo, guard-oriented ball?
Marquette, coached by Steve Wojciechowski, is like looking in a mirror for St. John’s and for Chris Mullin - but a slightly advanced one. And one with a two centers, a trio of seniors, and some up and coming guard talent.
Marquette currently has the best offense in the Big East, scoring nearly 1.2 points per possession. A big part of this, of course, is that the Golden Eagles are willing and able to strafe from deep, where they are connecting at 44% in conference play (St. John’s is at 33%). The Golden Eagles’ turnover rate is fairly low (3rd best in the conference; St. John’s is 4th).
But on defense, Marquette us currently the team that allows opponents the highest per-possession scoring in conference. Opponents shoot well over 39% from outside the arc on Marquette. The Eagles don’t force turnovers and don’t stop offensive rebounders, though they are just a hair better than St. John’s inability to stop second-chance opportunities.
But, you are likely thinking, do they have big men who can abuse the Red Storm inside?
They do, in Luke Fischer and Sam Heldt. Fischer has been tagged with being a little soft or finesse this season; and his defensive rebounding numbers look more appropriate on a guard. But he is 6’11” and blocks shots (when not in foul trouble), while shooting 64% inside the arc in conference play. And he attacks the offensive glass on Marquette misses. Heldt is an end-of-bench 6’10” big man.
Expect to see forward Sam Hauser play inside; he’s 6’6”, 225 pounds, and willing to rebound. And he can shoot from outside the arc (41% in conference action).
In fact, four of the nine rotation players take more than half of their shots from outside the arc, led by Katin Reinhardt’s 103 attempts. He was, let’s say, streaky for a stretch this season after transferring from USC as a grad transfer. But in an upset win over top-ranked Villanova, Marquette rose from a 15-point deficit in the last nine minutes of the game.
In that stretch of nine minutes, Katin Reinhardt dropped 15 points - mostly via threes and free throws. The 6’6” Californian, who was recruited by St. John’s back when Steve Lavin was the head coach, can get hot in a hurry and can handle the ball a little. In conference play, Reinhardt has been the team’s best passer by assist rate. Expect him to continue to be an effective guard/ forward and be a matchup problem.
The point guard is manned by dynamic top-50 guard Markus Howard, technically, but all the guards and wings share the ball. Howard and UNC-Asheville transfer Andrew Rowsey (listed at 5’10”) can both stroke it from beyond the three-point line. Point guard Duane Wilson - now deeper on the bench as a junior - can have his moments (shooting and passing) as well.
The arc will need to be defended, and St. John’s will need to be energetic and aware when chasing the Eagles’ guards.
Slashers JaJuan Johnson and Haanif Cheatham round out the roster. Johnson, a 6’5” senior, is a ballhawk, and St. John’s will need to be aware of him when passing. He’s fast in transition and rebounds well, even if his outside shot hasn’t been falling consistently this month.
Cheatham may be the team’s star. He logs the most minutes in league play and gets to the line at a high rate. His scoring consistency from the field has escaped him in league play and he doesn’t get credited with many steals or fouls.
Golden Eagles to watch
Assuming Katin Reinhardt is very good and JaJuan Johnson will be a defensive problem, here’s who we should keep an eye on in the game.
Markus Howard. Freshman Markus Howard was a top-50 guard who, like Shamorie Ponds for St. John’s, has been an instant impact player despite his height (he’s listed at 5’11”). Howard is hitting 51% of his three-point shots on the season, while also grabbing some steals. But his scoring has come in spurts - 26 against Butler in a road loss, seven minutes and scoreless in an upset over Villanova. He can be a fast, talented guard on the floor that sets the tone.
Luke Fischer. Given St. John’s size problems, any large big man is an issue to be confronted. Can the Red Storm neutralize his touches inside and get to the rim? That would open up the game immensely.
Haanif Cheatham. Cheatham has had good games against St. John’s as a freshman. And he’s had some pretty poor games as a sophomore - especially when he does not get to the free throw line. St. John’s lack of size may allow Marquette to deploy him differently and get him on track; the Red Storm have to make sure he doesn’t take the reins and enjoy a breakout league performance.
Keys to contest
Force some steals/ win the TO margin. St. John’s forces league opponents into the highest percentage of turnovers with a combination of activity, the press and some kind of voodoo. It’ll be important to force Marquette - not normally mistake-prone - into some mistakes in what will likely be an up-and-down affair. It should go without saying - but that point is moot if the Johnnies cough up the ball with ill-conceived drives.
Defend intelligently. No, the Golden Eagles aren’t a great interior team. And they don’t draw fouls. But they will attack an open rim. St. John’s has to defend with awareness, get back on defense to stop easy transition looks, and generally not lose defensive assignments. Playing fast without controlling the tempo/ opponent shots is a game that the Red Storm have often lost; and they have won when they can keep it close and execute late in the game.
Activate new weapons in the shootout. In a faster-paced game, St. John’s needs Malik Ellison to be effective on both ends and needs Federico Mussini to take and make a few shots. But most of all, some rim running paint presence - possibly in the form of Kassoum Yakwe, who will see matchups where he isn’t giving up 30 pounds and three inches - could be the difference in the game.
We think Marquette is NCAA Tournament good. But... we’re going to step out on a limb and say the styles match well enough that we don’t think Marquette wins a fourth-straight against the Red Storm.
St. John’s 82, Marquette 79
KenPom Prediction: Marquette 88-84