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St. John’s looks to heat up at Creighton: how to watch, preview

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Johnnies travel to their house of futility in Omaha looking for their first Big East win

Shamorie Ponds, Marcus Lovett join Amar Alibegovic and the walk-ons on the bench
Wendell Cruz

It’s a cold world in the USA this week, but St. John’s hopes to bring its own heat to Omaha, Nebraska.

Coming off a better-than-expected result against Seton Hall, St. John’s travels to the western edge of the Big East to play Creighton, a team ranked in the top 25 in both polls before a loss at Seton Hall last week.

It is possible that neither Shamorie Ponds or Marcus LoVett will play against Creighton. For St. John’s, this is obviously worrisome, as the team takes on a Bluejays squad that has soundly defeated the Red Storm in every game of the Chris Mullin era.

Will a renewed forward-focus and a dedication to defense turn the tide and deliver a surprise win? Will Shamorie Ponds play? (maybe, he practiced yesterday) Will Marcus LoVett play? (maybe not, he did not practice yesterday)

The effort needs to be there for the Johnnies. But the opponent would be a huge challenge at full strength.

Game Details

Who: St. John’s Red Storm (10-4 | 0-2 Big East) versus Creighton Bluejays (11-3 | 1-1 Big East)

Where: CenturyLink Center Omaha (17,390 capacity)

When: Wednesday January 3, 8:00 PM ET

TV: FS1

Audio: 570 AM WMCA; TuneIn Radio

Last Meeting: St. John’s lost at Creighton last February, 82-68

History: St. John’s is 2-6 against Creighton since the Bluejays joined the Big East conference, and 7-8 overall since their first meeting in 1961.

Scouting Creighton

Let’s numb you with numbers.

The Bluejays offense continues to be focused on ball movement and efficient scoring at an extreme level. The NCAA’s 19th best offense per possession, as calculated by KenPom, Greg McDermott’s team assists on 59% of made shots (52nd in NCAA D-1) and hits 62% of their two-pointers and 28% of threes.

The Jays shoot a lot of threes (44% of their shots, 61st in the nation) and turn the ball over on 14% of their possessions (8th in the country).

Creighton is all about that pass, though. McDermott talked about their philosophy at Creighton practice yesterday. “Our guys trust each other that they know if they make the extra pass,” McDermott said, “it's gonna come back to them at some point.”

McDermott is concerned about preparing for different lineups, despite the offensive efficiency.

“[St. John’s is] a totally different team when [LoVett and Ponds] don't play,” McDermott said. “Some ways it's hurts them, in other ways it helps because it puts so much length on the floor. We have to be prepared for everything - it's a little bit different scheme depending on who's on the floor.

“I think we'll see the most pressure than anybody we've played all year. St. John's, when they go to the zone, their zone is longer than anything we've seen all year.”

The scoring comes from the perimeter players, but each of those players are willing to take advantage of extended defenses to reach open spaces and make plays.

“They're going to get up on us like Providence and Seton Hall and try to out-tough us a little bit,” guard Marcus Foster said. “I think we just have to get our pace going - something we didn't get as much as much as we wanted on Providence, but we definitely can get it going on them.”

Defensively, the Bluejays get into proper position, and defend the three decently, allowing 30% shooting outside the arc. Their style does not put a lot of pressure on opponents; The Bluejays are 328th in turnovers forced in D-1 (forcing turnovers on 16% of possessions), do not block shots, and, in losses, have been beaten by big men inside.

NCAA Basketball: Creighton at Seton Hall Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Scouting the players

Star Marcus Foster has upped his game as a senior, improving his three-point shot (42%) and his two-point proficiency (59%). He is willing to drive a lane and dunk.

Defensive star Khyri Thomas gets the opposing team’s best player, but also can rise up for a layup or a dunk.

Freshmen Mitch Ballock - who looks like he’s in a two-player competition with Omari Spellman for Big East Freshman of the Year - and Ty-Shon Alexander also add scoring from the perimeter.

Ballock has been impressive as a wing ballhandler who can throw it down, while also hitting threes. In Big East play, he has been scoreless, only taking a pair of threes in the two games. Alexander has scored 14 points in the two games.

Ronnie Harrell is an athletic wing who is effective on the defensive glass and outside the arc. Davoin Mintz is a backup point guard who can hit some runners. Tyler Clement is a point guard who sometimes appears in the box score under “minutes played”. If Syracuse transfer Kaleb Joseph is on the floor, some fans are heading for the exits with victory cigars.

The surprise that has risen the Creighton squad to a top-25 team is Slovenian forward Martin Krampelj, who has been able to sustain his on-court efficiency and quickness for longer periods of time. He can shoot from outside (but so far hasn’t been efficient - but that is what we said about the Arizona State big man, Vitaliy Shibel), but watch for him in the pick and roll for the lob dunk.

Toby Hegner is a fifth-year player who can shoot from outside the arc and defend inside. Manny Suarez is a former Fordham player who played at Adelphi, but decided, perhaps, the excitement of the NY-area was too much. Suarez had some effective games early in the year but has fallen out of the rotation.

St. John’s vs Creighton since Creighton joined Big East

St. John’s/ Creighton Results since 2014

Year Date Loc Opp Rk. Res. StJ Crt Diff
Year Date Loc Opp Rk. Res. StJ Crt Diff
2016-17 2/28/2017 @ Creighton L 68 82 -14
2016-17 1/4/2017 Creighton 10 L 72 85 -13
2015-16 2/28/2016 @ Creighton L 59 100 -41
2015-16 12/31/2015 Creighton L 70 80 -10
2014-15 2/7/2015 Creighton W 84 66 18
2014-15 1/28/2015 @ Creighton L 74 77 -3
2013-14 2/9/2014 Creighton 12 W 70 65 5
2013-14 1/28/2014 @ Creighton 20 L 60 63 -3
Johnnies have not fared well in Mullin’s tenure vs Creighton Sports-Reference.com

St. John’s notes/ scouting

Bashir Ahmed looks to escape trap
Wendell Cruz

Without Shamorie Ponds: Ponds and LoVett were thought to be one of the best backcourts in the nation before the season.

Today, early in Big East play, Marcus LoVett has been sidelined for over a month, while Ponds has missed a game - and has struggled to find a consistent outside shot. Ponds has been a belligerent attacker of the basket, drawing fouls and getting shots at the bucket while playing point guard.

Without those two high scoring guards, the center of gravity of the team has moved forward.

Marvin Clark II has taken up more offensive possessions compared to the quiet beginning of his season.

Tariq Owens has had a usage uptick as well, while becoming more efficient; opponents are leaving him open to let him take the long jump shot. that shot was inefficient last year (28%) but Owens is hitting longer two-pointers at 38% per T-Rank - enough to make defenders want to consider defending it.

Playing more on the ball, Justin Simon’s defensive rebounding numbers have fallen - because he’s not able to be as far from the basket, he has a bigger responsibility to cover players trying to leak out. He has also shot 39% inside the arc in the two Big East games.

Bashir Ahmed has been solid within the game concept; he continues to struggle inside the arc, shooting 41% (although missed putbacks also count as shot attempts). Can he find the touch inside five feet?

Kassoum Yakwe has had some nice moments, but Bryan Trimble, Jr. and Amar Alibegovic have not been able to add more punch to the team.

The offense rests?: the Red Storm’s best offensive performance per possession, outside of the beatdown on Sacred Heart, was against Missouri. Since the game in the Advocare Invitational, St. John’s has cracked the 1 point per possession line against Sacred Heart and in the two Big East games (1.04 points/ possession vs Providence, 1.02 vs Seton Hall).

Keys to the Game

Pressure on ballhandlers. The Bluejays don’t have a “true” point guard, and looks to move the ball with a combination of Foster, Thomas and Ballock (though Alexander was recruited as a PG). No one player is the “lead guard” who facilitates all the action - it’s a team effort.

Simon and, if he plays, Ponds, need to bring back that 94 feet of annoyance that has powered the Johnnies through offensive struggles.

The jump shot is a gift. Use the shot wisely. Marvin Clark II and Bashir Ahmed need to use their perimeter shots to attack the rim - and then use the fear of the three to get at the basket and draw fouls.

Rough it up. The Red Storm would, in ideal circumstances, love to play a fun, uptempo game. But the Red Storm don’t want to give the Bluejays space to get comfortable. A ragged game with deflections in the halfcourt and limited transition attempts will lead to better outcomes for the Red Storm.

Prediction

Ponds or not, St. John’s gets worked over by Creighton again. 90-71, Bluejays.