Finally back home after a two game road trip, #23/#24 St. John’s welcomes the DePaul Blue Demons from Chicago to a sold-out Carnesecca Arena. Tonight, the Johnnies will also honor recently-deceased Solly Walker, the first African-American player to suit up for the Red Storm.
It should be a good night all around, but do not forget: DePaul can be the Johnnies’ kryptonite.
Last season, St. John’s was -16 against the Blue Demons, getting smoked at home by the visitors and winning by only one in Chicago.
The Demons know how to be frustrating for teams that want to run. They are tall. They rebound. And after their win over Seton Hall, and a loss over Villanova where they controlled more than half the game, the DePaul squad knows they have a fighting chance.
This game, like every game, must be taken seriously — in large part because DePaul can attack St. John’s where it hurts, inside.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (14-2, 2-2 Big East) vs DePaul Blue Demons (9-5, 1-2 Big East)
Where: Carnesecca Arena (5,601)
When: Saturday, January 12, 6:00 PM
TV: CBS Sports Network | CBS Sports Online
Audio: 570 WMCA AM | TuneIn Radio
Odds: St. John’s, -10
Last meeting: St. John’s won by one point in Chicago, 77-76, avenging the 17-point loss last season at Carnesecca. The last time St. John’s was ranked when facing DePaul was in the 2011 season, when #23 ranked St. John’s defeated DePaul, 76-51.
Rankings & School Notes
Last season final KenPom Ranking: 99 | Current KenPom Ranking: 119
School size: 22,769 (14,816 undergraduates)
School is academically known for: Business/ management, performing arts, psychology
Notable alumni: Richard J. Daley (Chicago mayor), Richard M. Daley (Chicago mayor), George Papadopolous (foreign policy advisor, Trump Presidential campaign), Jim O’Rourke (experimental musician), Gillian Anderson (actress, X-Files), Judy Greer (actress, 13 Going on 30), John C. Reilly (actor), Michael Rooker (actor, The Walking Dead), Joe Mantegna (actor, Godfather III), Harvey Korman (actor), Lili Taylor (actress, Mystic Pizza), Ted Wass (actor, Blossom), members of the band Chicago
In the fourth year under Dave Leitao, the Blue Demons are have improved enough to be a consistent threat, if not a consistent winner, in Big East play.
On the floor, this year’s Blue Demons team has used their height and some improving sophomores to become harder to score on. With guards who stand 6’6” and strong bigs, the Blue Demons have been solid on the season at making teams shoot from distance (45% of opponents’ shots are from deep) and rebounding the defensive end (the 9th best defensive rebounding rate in the country).
The Blue Demons are solid at scoring inside the arc, connecting on 56.6% of their shots, and are crashing the offensive boards well. Expect to see helping man defense that limits penetration (some pack-line principles) and some zone.
With an injury to Illinois transfer and shooter Jalen Coleman-Lands, the Demon offense has become more paint-focused. Still, on offense, the Blue Demons will look to attack the basket and take advantage of their talented bigs. Some of those attacks fail as the Demon ballhandlers turn the ball over a fair amount (and do not create steals on the other end).
The two-headed monster of Paul Reed (#4) and Jaylen Butz (#2) provide a hard-rebounding pair of bigs who can act quickly when they catch the ball. On offense, Reed looks to be the more versatile of the two; he can make some moves from the free throw line or the baseline to get to the rim and score in close.
Butz shoots 66% on twos; Reed shoots 57%. Both are 6’9”; both block a fair share of shots (Reed’s shot-blocking numbers are stronger), and both force steals. Watch them on trapping action with guard Devin Gage.
Coming off the bench to spell them is grad transfer Femi Olujobi (#25) , who also looked at St. John’s as a grad destination. The 6’9”, 258 pounder is a strong offensive rebounder but has been MIA on the defensive glass, while also committing a heavy does of fouls in Big East play. He is mobile and can cause headaches in the post for St. John’s defense.
The three bigs for DePaul are very good. And the Demons staff had a solid game plan against St. John’s last season with the mobile big man Marin Maric, who scored 25 points with 11 rebounds. The bigs are also willing to pass to each other.
The guards each can spend some time on the ball. With that said, Max Strus (#31) tends to play off the ball, using screens and constant motion to get into catch-and-shoot positions. When he’s on and he’s set, he is a strong-bodied shooter who can drive. He can put up a lot of points. Strus will get his shots, but has had some poor shooting nights (1/10 vs Boston College, 2/11 vs Northwestern). At 6’6”, he can also get to offensive rebounding chances.
Eli Cain (#11) is another 6’6” guard who is a strong passer. When set and given a moment, he can shoot from deep, but he far too often is tasked with finding points when the offensive movement has not led to a good opportunity. He is shooting a solid 38% from deep this season and 48% inside the arc.
Devin Gage (#3) is a 6’2” point guard whose shot from deep has been a struggle. He’s solid off the dribble and can put up some points inside the arc, using his strong body. He’s a good passer and the Demons’ biggest threat to force steals.
Deeper on the bench, Cal State Northridge grad transfer (and former TCU player) Lyrik Shreiner (#0) has seen nearly 20 minutes per game. While not a natural point guard, he will have the ball in his hands with his speed. He has been reluctant to take shots with DePaul, and often commits as many turnovers as shot attempts. He will compete on the glass at 6’3”.
Freshman guard Flynn Cameron (#21) has logged nine minutes — all in the win against Seton Hall — in Big East play. The 6’3” New Zealander has not shown much yet on the floor for the Demons.
Keys to the Game
Patience. DePaul feels like the kind of game the Johnnies should run away with. But the Blue Demons have been a difficult out for St. John’s for years. Their mix of denying penetration and height will mean that the Red Storm should look carefully for opportunities, instead of waiting for the opponent lunge and then driving into the vacated space.
Manage the boards. St. John’s will face an opponent that will likely attack the glass harder than any other Big East opponent so far. The trio of 6’9” big men are talented, powerful, and quick — the kind of players who could pose foul trouble for LJ Figueroa, Marvin Clark II and Sedee Keita.
Keep them from running. St. John’s will want to keep the Demons from getting into a rhythm. Getting back on defense — and making offense a frustrating endeavor — should lead to run out opportunities and transition shooting chances. Max Strus might get his, but Cain needs time to shoot, and the real danger posed by the backup guards is speed against a lazy defense.
DePaul has been a tough out for the Red Storm for years.
But assuming full health (LJ Figueroa turned his ankle, and the starters played heavy minutes against Villanova), the Johnnies should be able to get this one running by the end of the first half.
The big men will be hard to contend with, but keeping them from a moment to gather and getting a clear look at the basket will slow them. The guard play for DePaul can be sloppy and will lead to some transition opportunities for St. John’s.
St. John’s wins 79-70.