What is real? What is truth? Is 12-0 good?
These existential questions will be answered on Saturday night as St. John’s faces Seton Hall in Newark’s Prudential Center. Is that hyperbole? Sure! But old friends Shamorie Ponds and Myles Powell will face off for the fourth time (Ponds missed last year’s first matchup between the longtime rivals).
Both teams are receiving votes, and for each team, a win will open up the pearly gates of a National Ranking, and all the attendant respect that comes with it. Also, rivalry game. Also, sellout crowd. Also, both teams need to prove they are ready to take a spot near the top of the Big East standings, in a season where all the teams are in a flux.
Seton Hall has defeated the Johnnies in six of their last eight meetings. Seton Hall is 13-1 against St. John’s in New Jersey over the last 20 years. Powell and Ponds are battling for local supremacy. And St. John’s is fighting from respect nationally (and from some here in the Rumble comments section).
It’s a pretty big game.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (12-0) at Seton Hall Pirates (9-3)
Where: Prudential Center, Newark, NJ (10,862)
When: Saturday, December 29, 8:30 PM
TV: FSN/ YES in NYC | FoxSportsGo
Audio: 570 WMCA | TuneIn Radio
Odds: Seton Hall, -3.5
Last meeting: St. John’s fell to Seton Hall, 81-74, in overtime. St. John’s is 59-40 all time against the Pirates. This is the teams’ 100th meeting.
Rankings & School Notes
Last season final KenPom Ranking: 26 | Current KenPom Ranking: 55
School size: 9,801 (5,969 undergraduates)
School is academically known for: International relations, nursing, finance
Notable alumni: Max Weinberg (Springsteen’s E Street Band), Bob Ley (ESPN personality), Nicole Malliotakis (candidate for NYC Mayor), Don DiFrancesco (NJ Governor), Dennis Kozlowski (Tyco CEO)
Scouting Seton Hall
Seton Hall embarked on a difficult preseason slate, given the uncertainties around a team that lost three major contributors.
It turns out the Hall may be, despite the losses, pretty good. The evidence: dispatching Maryland on the road, Kentucky near home (at Madison Square Garden, which might count as a true neutral site for SHU), Miami (FL) in California, and handling Rutgers at home. The Hall did lose to a strong Nebraska team, were edged by Louisville and fell to Saint Louis.
This Pirate team has shown it is able to execute their sets, powered by a dangerous scorer in Myles Powell (#13). Powell is a 6’2” guard who is shooting 61% inside the arc, 38% from distance, utilizing multiple screens and reading the defenses well, and getting to the line with poise, dexterity and impressive strength.
By the numbers, Kevin Willard’s team has done a great job of holding on to the ball, using their offense to generate shots and free throw attempts; their rate of turnovers per 100 possessions is 10th best in the nation.
The team does not depend on a single lead passer; their assist/ field goal made ratio is low at under 50% (228th in Division I), and the team prefers to score inside the arc instead of bombing from outside.
The Pirates also show a balanced decent defensive effort that slows opponents in transition and forces some turnovers. Foes have found some openings taking three-pointers on Seton Hall from distance, but the shooting percentages from outside the arc have not been consistently good for those opponents; the Hall seems to get out and bother shooters.
The Hall generates a number of shots off the bounce with Powell, the 6’6” sophomore Myles Cale (#22) and Sacred Hart transfer Quincy McKnight (#0); those players will look for bigs Sandro Mamukelashvili (#23; 6’10”) moving around inside the arc, as well as Taurean Thompson (#15; 6’11). Expect drives and shots off of screens; the Red Storm will want to avoid going under screens against Powell, in particular.
Both Mamukelashvili and Thompson can shoot from distance, and the Red Storm run the risk of paying too much attention to Powell while leaving those players open.
Thompson, a Syracuse transfer, can run hot and cold with his decision-making, as he did with Syracuse — displaying high-level talent at times, committing too many fouls and having lapses at both ends at times. He has played as many as 25 minutes (in an overtime game) and as few as five in major contests. His mobility may get him some minutes in a game against St. John’s over some of the other big man options.
Recently, 7’2” Romaro Gill (#35), a big man from St. Thomas, Jamaica, has seen more time, starting against Maryland, a team with a couple of strong bigs. Gill moves fairly well and is very long. Michael Nzei (#1), a 6’8” four-year contributor, continues to do his defensive dirty work and connect on high-percentage shots at the basket. Their size against the Red Storm’s guard-heavy lineup could be a mismatch.
Mcknight, who is 6’4” and Powell can be aggressive in the passing lanes. McKnight, in particular, will gamble on defense against a defender in man coverage. While on the floor, those two have been part of effective team defenses; Mamukelashvili and Gill also do a good job suppressing shots.
On defense, expect to see a number of looks, including zone. The defenders are solid and can close out on shooters with balance, but may not be as quick as some of St. John’s attacking players.
The bench guards — locals Antony Nelson (#2), Shavar Reynolds (#33) and wing Jared Rhoden could see minutes. Nelson, in particular, has a keen passing eye.
Keys to the Game for St. John’s
Keep the Hall defense moving. St. John’s needs to negate the Pirates’ poise with ball movement and activity. The Red Storm could find favorable shooting matchups after switches — or could simply find empty space. But only if the team works to move the ball, use their quickness, and not just settle for threes the whole game. Making this a game with transition opportunities plays to the Red Storm’s favor.
Slow down Powell. The Red Storm defense — led, in this case, likely by Justin Simon and Shamorie Ponds in the outset — need to do a good job of making it hard for Powell to catch the ball in rhythm and do his voodoo. (Watching him snake between players and turn on a dime, I am convinced. Voodoo.) Powell will get his points — and will show some defensive skill — but it needs to be hard work that consumes chunks of the shot clock each time, expends energy, and includes deflections which stifling the flow of the offense.
Rebound. It’s been nice that the Johnnies have been strong at rebounding and have not been gashed by any big men. But against the size of Seton Hall, expect the Jersey boys to take a crack at seeing how strong Marvin Clark II, Mustapha Heron and LJ Figueroa are in the paint. Doubling in the paint will leave Pirate players open; but if St. John’s can scramble while also giving scant moments for shots, they may make this work.
This game could be a beating by Seton Hall, with their talent, skill players, and size. But St. John’s has a lot of shooting, enough to stretch Seton Hall out. St. John’s has much more offensive firepower than last season. In the game plans, the undermanned Johnnies have done something to make Seton Hall speed up & sweat in the last two games, despite the results (one win, three defeats).
So we’ll go out on a limb and say St. John’s wins this one on the road, 80-76.