St. John’s finishes the pre-conference section of play with Sacred Heart from the Northeast conference tomorrow night. Can the Johnnies send the home fans happy one more time before turning their eyes towards Seton Hall?
Or will the team have Seton Hall on the mind, like this site apparently does?
The Johnnies put together a stronger game last outing than some of the other lower-level teams, but they face a Sacred Heart team that does not often get cheated on making three-point shots. And given the season-long issues in stifling three-point scoring... do the Red Storm have a serious worry tomorrow night?
We bring in Ryan Peters once more, the Blue Ribbon scribe and Sacred Heart alum, to catch us up with the Pioneers — and how they have given some solid teams a competitive game.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (11-0) vs Sacred Heart Pioneers (4-7)
Where: Carnesecca Arena
When: Saturday, December 22, 8:00 PM
TV: FS1 | FoxSportsGo
Audio: 570 WMCA | TuneIn Radio
Odds: St. John’s, -19
Last meeting: St. John’s knocked off Sacred Heart last year 90-55, taking off in the second half. The Red Storm is 3-0 against the Catholic school from Bridgeport.
Rankings & School Notes
Last season final KenPom Ranking: 305 | Current KenPom Ranking: 282
School size: 8,543 (5,603 undergraduates)
School is academically known for: Health professions/ nursing, business, athletic training, criminal justice
Notable alumni: Kevin Nealon (actor/ comedian), John Ratzenberger (actor, Cheers), Carl Higbie (former Navy SEAL, spokesman/ political activist - did not graduate), Jose Feliciano (singer, “Feliz Navidad”), Lydia Hearst (model, wife to Chris Hartwick), Suzanne Greco (former Subway CEO)
Scouting Sacred Heart
Under coach Anthony Latina, the Pioneers have been a strong rebounding team with three-point threats, but also a team that has struggled on defense, reluctant (or unable) to put on pressure, and one that plays fast — and sometimes gets run over in a track meet, as St. John’s did last season.
Ryan Peters answered some questions on the Pioneers, and the answers are below.
Q: What’s different between last year’s Scared Heart squad and this season’s bunch?
A: They actually have guards this season that can make plays and create. Last season, there just weren’t enough playmakers to combat the transfer of Quincy McKnight, now on Seton Hall.
This season, however, Cameron Parker (#11, 6’2”) is already the best pure point guard in the NEC and leads all Division I freshman in assists per game, senior guard Sean Hoehn (#22, 6’2”) is a year wiser and shooting better from behind the arc and freshman guard Aaron Clarke (#0, 6’1”) is a savvy, versatile player that acts like a veteran.
Throw Zach Radz (#12, 6’2”), a capable bench piece that’ll give you 6-10 ppg and the supremely talented Koreem Ozier (#2, 6’1”) into the mix (more on him below) and Anthony Latina actually has backcourt depth.
Q: What happened to Koreem Ozier?
A: Long story short, he missed the last 9 games due to a violation of university policy. I heard he will be reinstated soon, if not this Saturday.
He may very well be the Pioneers’ best player as a freshman, so the sooner he comes back, the better for Sacred Heart’s NEC chances. He can score anywhere on the floor and if he’s back on Saturday, St. John’s will need to account for him right away.
[editor’s note: Ozier averaged 24.5 points per game in 2 contests, shooting 7/13 from outside the arc, with six total assists and 10 rebounds.]
Q: Tell us about the Pioneer bigs and how impactful they have been on the glass.
A: For the most part, the bigs have played well. Jare’l Spellman (#25, 6’10”) is an athletic freak — he’ll block shots, rebound above the rim and show off a competent offensive arsenal. E.J. Anosike (#24, 6’8”), like his brother at Siena, is already an excellent rebounder and a bull in the china stop. Both he and Spellman are learning on the job — Anosike still lacks touch around the rim and Spellman will wander and get lost on defense at times, but these two make for an exciting duo.
Even the undersized Kinnon LaRose (#30, 6’3”) has been useful on the offensive glass as a stretch 4.
Q: How does one slow down the Pioneers’ shooting?
A: Ball pressure and physicality.
Cam Parker, for as awesome as he has been, does struggle when you are physical with him. Seton Hall forced him into some bad turnovers with their physical play and if you can slow down Parker, you’re likely going to reduce the number of good looks the Pioneers get from behind the arc.
Hoehn has struggled in the past against high major competition too; he’s not an elite athlete so intense ball pressure will makes things difficult him and he currently leads his teammates in 3Pt percentage (42.0%).
Q: How is the Sacred Heart defense? Will we see zone, man, or a mix? How do they slow teams down?
A: To be frank, this is not a good defense team. Spellman will block shots in the middle, but otherwise the Pioneers don’t have a defensive strength to lean on. In 9 out of 10 Division games, Sacred Heart has allowed at least 1.03 points per possession. Part of it is chemistry issues with so many newcomers, I reckon.
Q: How can Sacred Heart pull off an upset against St. John’s?
A: Gotta make 3s and lots of them. That may seem obvious, but like St. John’s these Pioneers will push the tempo and try to create in transition. I don’t see a way anyone stops Ponds from scoring and creating with the ball, so Sacred Heart will need to stay close with a good ‘ole fashioned track meet.
Keys to the Game
Build the running habit. Against St. Francis, St. John’s got running by the middle of the first half, activating Mikey Dixon and Justin Simon in transition, with Shamorie Ponds pulling the strings with deft passing. Sacred Heart will play a softer defense and may sag, giving the Johnnies a chance to shoot threes. But the Red Storm have to try to attack inside and not take the first shot.
Attack on defense early. Ponds and Simon in the backcourt can harass the Sacred Heart guards into mistakes if the team mixes up the pressure and keeps the freshman ballhandlers confused.
The ugly interior. It is entirely possible that this game will turn on some offensive rebounding opportunities in the paint for the Pioneers. How will Marvin Clark II, Mustapha Heron and LJ Figueroa defend Sacred Heart’s size? Will those defensive possessions take away from their talents/ concentration on the offensive end?
St. John’s gets going again, and wins 85-69. (For the ones who want to compare, Seton Hall defeated Sacred Heart, 90-76)