Before the season began, it looked on paper that St. John’s would get a huge resume-building opportunity.
The Blue Devils have held up their end of the bargain, entering Saturday’s contest as one of the nation’s very best. Unfortunately, the Johnnies have struggled mightily in conference play, still being winless in the Big East.
Regardless, anytime Duke is in town, it is a big game. St. John’s could be fired up for this one.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (10-13 I 0-11 Big East) vs. #4 Duke Blue Devils (19-3 I 7-3 ACC)
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
When: Saturday, February 3rd, 12:00 PM ET
Audio: 570 AM WMCA; TuneIn Radio
Last Meeting: Duke outlasted St. John’s at MSG in 2015, in what was coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 1,000th career win.
The Blue Devils enter this contest as one of the best in college basketball, something they are accustomed to. So far this season, they have beaten Michigan State, Florida, Texas, and Florida State, among others. Their only three losses have been at the hands of Boston College, NC State, and Virginia in conference play.
Offensively, Duke plays a very fast-paced game. They shoot the three well, they grab offensive rebounds, they do not turn the ball over, and they get comfortable looks around the hoop. Their only weakness is, as a jump shooting team, a slight inability to get to the free throw line and convert once there. Duke only shoots 69% from the line as a team.
Top NBA prospect Marvin Bagley III has led the team in scoring this season. He is averaging 22 points, 11 rebounds, and about one block per game. He is a serious threat with the basketball on all levels, from inside the arc to beyond the three-point line. He is hard to stop on the low block, which may explain his 60% field goal percentage.
In the backcourt, players like Grayson Allen (senior) and Gary Trent Jr. (freshman) have led the way. They have combined for around 30 points and 6 assists per game.
Up and down the roster is high-end talent - like freshman point guard Trevon Duval, who can create his shot off the dribble and passes at a high level. Freshman center Wendell Carter is almost as efficient as Bagley, but a shot-blocker as well. Wing Alex O’Connell and center Marques Bolden are also very talented and can fill in without much drop off.
Defensively, the Blue Devils are also stout. Despite not putting heavy pressure on the ball or forcing turnovers, they can lock opponents down. Still, they do not do an exceptional job guarding the three-point line. If they are to lose a game, it would likely be due to weak defense.
Keys to contest
Shoot the three: St. John’s is going to have to hit three-point shots if they are to beat Duke. Just as Boston College, who shot 57% from deep on their way to one of the season’s most surprising victories, the best way to beat a favored team is to shoot your way by them.
Bend but don’t break: Duke has NBA prospects and highly regarded players all over their roster. Stopping down their potent offense is impossible. Still, if St. John’s can secure an early lead, and get enough stops to keep Duke behind, they can slow down Duke just enough and shock college basketball.
Limit the errors: St. John’s can take advantage of a Duke team that doesn’t create many turnovers or draw a lot of fouls. Silly fouls and careless turnovers will keep St. John’s out of this one. Keeping both these things at a minimum will give them a fighting chance to pull the upset.
If you’re expecting a turnaround, I would look at a different game. Duke is arguably the best team in the country and just too powerful for the Johnnies; they’ll compete but lose 84-71.