Two 0-3 teams come into the frozen tundra of Queens. One will leave with a win.
Looking at the schedule, you probably didn’t think you would see the St. John’s Red Storm with zero Big East wins. But injuries have slowed the team’s possession - and the opening three games were going to be hard, with or without Marcus LoVett, who may not play on Saturday. Coach Chris Mullin announced that he has been working through a sprained MCL in the press conference on Friday.
The Big East is a difficult conference to win in, and even DePaul has stepped up their talent level with newcomers.
The Red Storm are good enough for postseason action. But they need to start winning, need to finish off games when they are in reach. The fatigue may be an issue, but a good team overcomes it.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (10-5 | 0-3 Big East) vs. DePaul Blue Demons (7-8 | 0-3 Big East)
Where: Carnesecca Arena
When: Saturday, January 6, 2:00 PM ET
TV: YES/ FoxSports Networks | FOX Sports Go
Audio: 570 AM WMCA; TuneIn Radio
Last Meeting: St. John’s won last season at Carnesecca Arena on MLK Day, January 16, 78-68, where Malik Ellison and Bashir Ahmed took over.
History: The Red Storm are 14-6 against the Blue Demons since Chicago’s sleeping giant joined the Big East.
As a team, the DePaul Blue Demons have been working to institute a defensive and rebounding toughness reminiscent of Jim Calhoun’s Connecticut teams; after all Leitao holds Calhoun as a mentor.
The talent’s not quite there yet, but you will see a mix of zone and pack line defenses that have encouraged opponents to shoot from outside the arc. Those opponents are shooting 45% of their shots from distance at a 38% clip. An issue for the Red Storm will be for them to play their game and move the ball, not settle for three pointers as Justin Simon noted after the Providence loss.
The Blue Demons present a bit of a challenge; they do not turn the ball over often (18% of possessions) but they force turnovers on 22% of opponent possessions. That said, the high-level teams they have faced are known to not force turnovers or throw heavy pressure.
The Demons are shooting 32% from outside the arc on the season (which is pretty poor), 49% inside the arc (which is middling), but defend shots inside the arc with their length, allowing 46% shooting inside the arc, 63rd in the country. They will play at pace and have some tools to work with.
Scouting the players
I saw Max Strus play DePaul in 2014 - original hipster, here - and I thought, hey, that freshman (I think?) is not bad. But Division II Lewis always brought a squad that looked like a low-Division I team to DePaul, a reminder of how much work the Demons had to do and how much of basketball is confidence and practice.
Now, the local wing Strus is on the fringes of NBA scout coverage in his first year in Division I. He dropped 33 on Northwestern and on Xavier, and struggled against Georgetown with 19 points on 6/19 shooting. He works screens hard, is ready to catch and launch, is strong and mobile at 6’6” and is fairly athletic.
Brandon Cyrus is a 6’5” backup shooter who hasn’t made a heavy impact in the previous games against St. John’s. Austin Grandstaff is a shooter and sometimes rapper who transferred from Ohio State, to Oklahoma, and now to DePaul, but has struggle to find consistent time. Maybe he is waiting for the bright lights of NYC to blow up like a firework.
In his third year, and now as the most experienced player, Eli Cain has struggled with his shot; he is shooting 24% outside the arc and 38% inside the arc, taking tougher shots as the defacto point guard with Devin Gage sidelined for the rest of the season.
Justin Roberts backs him up. Roberts is a quick 6’0” guard and assisted on six shots against Villanova; he is turnover-prone.
Up front, Northern Illinois transfer Marin Maric, from the lovely city of Split, Croatia (really, you should go) has added a dimension of competence up front. He rebounds the offensive glass well, is mobile enough to run a solid pick and roll, and shoots 54% inside the arc and 36% outside the arc, though infrequently. He draws a lot of fouls.
Tre’Darius McCallum continues to be an undersized forward (6’7”, 220) with a solid game, shooting 61% inside the arc and 33% outside the three-point stripe. He’ll get some steals, too.
Jaylen Butz has been a more important contributor up front, providing very good rebounding in non-conference play at 6’9”, 220 as a freshman. He has been decent in Big East play and even chipped in 11 against Villanova. Fellow freshman forward Paul Reed has been a good defensive rebounder in limited minutes
Those four are backed by the great seniors walk-ons Peter Ryckbosh and Joe Hamel, who are solid tough interior players lacking a soft offensive touch, but adding energy and defense.
A thing you may not know: in his career, Ryckbosh has not missed a shot against the Johnnies (3/3). Hamel, from the Minneapolis suburb of Savage, MN, scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds against St. John’s in Carnesecca last season.
Keys to the Game
Manage the game. The pressure to get a win can force players to get out of the flow of the game. DePaul will want a game of chaos, a game where players shoot too quickly and gamble. The Johnnies have to maintain composure and keep the Blue Demons off of the glass.
Back to what worked. Players like Tariq Owens, Justin Simon and Marvin Clark II have stepped up, but the team needs Shamorie Ponds to return to the frightening two-way force he has been.
Shoot the shot. There will be three-point shots available for the Red Storm with good ball movement - but those shots have to fall, and fall all game
St. John’s gets the win