There are no easy stretches in the Big East. St. John’s comes off the loss to #1 Villanova on Saturday only to take a flight to play the Xavier Musketeers in Cincinnati on Wednesday, enjoying all of the loud hospitality of the Cintas Center.
The Musketeers’ on-campus home is loud. Chris Mack’s Xavier team is undefeated at home this year, have been ranked in the top 25 all season (a high of #5 in the AP poll) and are coming off of a season that ended in the Elite Eight last March.
The Johnnies, struggling in Big East play, have the tall task of sheathing the swords of the Musketeers. What they need to look for, details on how to watch the St. John’s/ Xavier game, online links and keys to the game are all below.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (10-8 I 0-6 Big East) versus #11/12 Xavier Musketeers (16-3 I 4-2 Big East)
Where: Cintas Center, Cincinnati, OH
When: Wednesday, January 17th, 8:30 PM ET
TV: CBS Sports Network | online
Audio: 970 AM WNYM; TuneIn Radio
Last Meeting: St. John’s fell to Xavier 82-77 in Madison Square Garden last season; the Red Storm have lost four straight games to the Cincinnati school.
Last five games: W W L L W
The top-line numbers: the Xavier Musketeers are offensively talented - one of the 20 most efficient teams in Division I. In the Big East, they’re only seventh-best, in part because the league has had ridiculous offensive performances in the first three weeks.
On defense, they are effective. Unwilling to force turnovers in many games, the Musketeers will lay back in versions of the pack line defense, matchup zones and also show a 1-3-1 zone (extended to make passes across the top of the three-point line difficult). They rebound very well on the defensive glass with their size (10th tallest team, weighted for minutes played, in Division I).
Opponents have struggled to make three-pointers, but this style of defense makes threes available - opposing Big East teams take 44% of their shots from beyond the arc.
On offense, the scoring strength is inside, where they shoot 57% on two-pointers. The ballhandlers all share and look to hand the ball off for an easy shot at the basket. They draw fouls shot attempts frequently.
Scouting Xavier’s players
They attack the basket off of misses, look to get their offensive shots off fast with talented wings Trevon Bluiett, who averages 18 points per game in conference play, and J.P. Macura, who has averaged 13 ppg in Big East action.
Bluiett is a jump shooter who is effective at all three levels (at the rim, midrange, beyond the three-point line). His season-high in scoring is 28 but he dropped 40 points last year against Cincinnati. He can get his shots reliably off the dribble and pull up anywhere; he will investigate all the cracks in the Red Storm’s perimeter defense.
Macura, who the entire league finds to be an irritant, is the better defender of the two, devoting his length and quickness to the mission of making opponents uncomfortable on both sides of the floor, forcing steals. He hits threes, but is also a very good slasher despite some recent struggles. And he is active - reaching into scrums, making passes that make no sense, pump faking big men - he’s a problem.
They are paired with wing Naji Marshall, a top-50 freshman who does most of his scoring inside.
The point guard is Quentin Goodin, a solid player who has struggled scoring away from the basket this season (13% on three-pointers). The sophomore is strong and is a high-level passer. Backing him up is top-50 freshman Paul Scruggs, who has struggled scoring away from the basket this season (18% on three-pointers). The freshman is strong and shows potential to be a strong passer.
The primary big men are two seniors, Sean O’Mara (6’10”, 244 lb) and Kerem Kanter (6’10”, 240 lb), who can both take up space inside against the Red Storm’s smaller front line.
Expect to see O’Mara making room in the post - he will likely require double-teams - and Kanter working from the outside in. Kanter can shoot the three-pointer, but, given a lane, can take advantage of close defending and drive for layup. He can post up as well.
Kaiser Gates looks the size of the other big men, but despite being 6’8”, 228 pounds, he shoots most of his shots from outside the arc - 88 attempts outside the three-point line, 19 inside the line. He shoots 43% from beyond the arc.
Tyrique Jones missed the game over Creighton with a hand injury, but dressed for the game.
Keys to the Game
Hit threes. The Red Storm have been the worst team in the league shooting the ball from outside the arc (Xavier is the second-worst). The Musketeers’ defense will allow for some open threes, and this is not a game that will be won without some competent three-point shooting from Bashir Ahmed, Bryan Trimble, Jr. and others who can contribute.
Get clicking. The Johnnies are working out their new identity moving forward. Is the best course of offensive action ball sharing, which does not seem to be earning wins? Is it screening so Justin Simon can drive and distribute? Or is it isolating Shamorie Ponds? The Johnnies have to find ways of getting the whole team involved, distorting defenses and finding easier shots earlier in the shot clock.
Compete in the post. This game won’t feature St. John’s shutting out the pair of Kanter and O’Mara, but the Red Storm’s Tariq Owens and Marvin Clark II need to find ways of defusing their offensive threat without committing too many defensive resources - leaving the likes of Blueitt and Macura open to toss in treys.
St. John’s could turn a corner!
But this matchup might also be worse for the Johnnies than Villanova was - Xavier basically begs opponents to shoot at times - and the Musketeers are deep and talented. This team has a lot of fight, but prediction is Xavier victory.
Which team will win on Wednesday in Cincinnati?
This poll is closed