For St. John’s fans, the hope of a NCAA Tournament berth this season is starting to look more and more like a reality. The Red Storm are 15-3, and have the look of a top-tier team this season. Following a relatively dominant victory over Creighton, more members of the national media have taken notice of the Johnnies.
Tip the #hat to @StJohnsBBall as they impress vs Creighton .Chris Mullin’s kids when at full strengh can compete with anyone / their engine who makes them a top 15 team @ShamorieP was back tonight . A MAJOR DIFFERENCE MAKER ! @AdamZagoria @NYPost_Brazille— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) January 17, 2019
Nevertheless, these next five games will be critical for St. John’s to prove they are an upper-echelon team in college basketball.
This stretch begins at Butler, and rolls through Georgetown, Creighton, Duke, and Marquette. The only home contest in that run is against the Georgetown Hoyas, who will pay a visit to Madison Square Garden.
Getting past these next five contests with three or four wins would solidify the strength of this Red Storm team’s schedule — and leave them in prime position for an at-large bid. Winning only one or two games during this stretch will leave more questions than answers about the quality of this St. John’s team.
This vital stretch kicks off at Hinkle Fieldhouse, where St. John’s has lost the last four times by an average of 23 points.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (15-3, 3-3 Big East) vs Butler Bulldogs (11-7, 2-3 Big East)
Where: Hinkle Fieldhouse (9,100)
When: Saturday, January 19th, 4:30 PM ET
TV: Fox | Fox Sports Go
Audio: 570 WMCA AM | TuneIn Radio
Odds: Butler, -5
Last Meeting: St. John’s topped Butler, 75-68 in a double-overtime thriller at Carnesecca Arena last February.
Rankings & School Notes
Last season final KenPom Ranking: 20 | Current KenPom Ranking: 38
School size: 5,095 (4,229 undergraduates)
School is academically known for: Communications, Chemistry, Accounting and Finance
Notable Alumni: Ed Carpenter (IndyCar driver), Thad Matta (Former Ohio State basketball coach), Harry Stewart New (Former United States Senator), Karen Pence (Second Lady of the United States)
The Bulldogs have been an inconsistent team. Wins against good teams like Ole Miss, Florida, and Creighton are balanced by losses to lesser teams such as Saint Louis, Georgetown, and Xavier. For these reasons, Butler finds themselves right now as a fringe NCAA Tournament team. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi includes them in his “First Four Out,” in his latest bracketology.
Their issues this season have had less to do with offense as much as they regard defense. When Butler has the ball, they are generally efficient.
Butler plays offense at a slower pace than most NCAA teams, prioritizing half-court sets as opposed to getting out in transition. This allows them to cut down on turnovers and break down the defense to allow for open shots, especially from beyond the arc. The Bulldogs have shot at a 37% clip from three-point territory. Coincidentally, almost 37% of their total points this year have come from deep. They emphasize the deep ball more so than most college basketball teams.
On the defensive side of things, the Bulldogs man defense has done a pretty solid job. They have forced a lot of turnovers this season. Almost 20% of opposing possessions have ended in a turnover. Also they have done a good job defending the three-point line, forcing opponents to take contested shots from deep, at shot at a 33% mark.
Where the Butler defense runs into trouble is their lack of rim protection. Despite a bruising frontcourt of 6’11” Joey Brunk (#50) (who has taken the starting role from 6’10” Nate Fowler, #51) the Bulldogs do not block or alter many shots at the basket.
Along with this, they foul at a high rate. About 20% of total points scored on Butler this season have come from the foul line. That number is not necessarily horrible, but they do have a tendency to get less free-throws than their opponents.
Butler is led by junior guard Kamar Baldwin (#3), who is currently averaging around 17 points, six rebounds, and four assists per game. Baldwin, a former member of the 2017 Big East All-Freshman Team, is a guard that can give the Red Storm backcourt issues. He possesses quick feet and immense toughness on the defensive end. The offense runs through his passing, driving and shooting off the dribble.
Another Bulldog to take note of is junior forward Sean McDermott (#22). He is the main three-point shooter on this Butler team. McDermott attempts on averaging 6 three-pointers a game, and knocks down just over 43% of his shots from deep. His longs arms can be a challenge for defenders who try to alter his jump shot.
Joining McDermott on the wing is sophomore forward Jordan Tucker (#1). Coming out of high school, Tucker was rated a four-star prospect out of White Plains, New York. He originally committed to play for the Duke Blue Devils. After one season in which he only saw 14 minutes of playing time, he decided to transfer.
Since finishing his two semesters of redshirt, he has appeared in nine games and is settling in. The last time out against DePaul, he finished with 19 points and 8 rebounds, while shooting 50% from the field. Tucker is a strong player, who can hold his own in the paint. Still, he has the ability to shoot, and pull-up off a screen. He could test the Red Storm big men.
Point guard Aaron Thompson (#2) is a good defender and very quick. His three-point shot, though rarely used, has improved. Guard Paul Jorgensen (#5), from outside New York City, is a confident shooter who has recently found himself playing with Butler’s second unit. Henry Baddley (#20) is a stocky junior who earns minutes for his defense. He can slash to the basket as well. Wing Christian David (#25) is an athlete who can block some shots and force some steals.
Keys to Game
Protect the arc: The Bulldogs will be looking to shot the basketball from three-point territory. The Johnnies have a shot to disrupt the Butler offense if they close out well around the arc. Butler shots about 37% from deep this season, but only around 30% in their seven defeats this year.
Get multiple scorers involved: St. John’s is a much tougher team to guard when they have multiple scorers going at once. In triumph against Creighton, the Red Storm had the Bluejays defense scrambling in part because they had a plethora of scoring threats. If Shamorie Ponds, Mustapha Heron, Justin Simon, and LJ Figueroa are putting the ball in the hoop, it is incredibly tough to slow down the Johnnies.
Expel road woes: The Red Storm have had their stiffest tests on the road this season. They did not get much of a chance to play on the road during their nonconference slate. This showed when Big East play commenced, as they dropped tight games at Seton Hall and Villanova.
The Johnnies barely escaped at Georgetown, against a Hoyas team that can be tough, but also a Hoyas team that is significantly worse than St. John’s. The Johnnies have to get more comfortable closing out games on the road, and Saturday will be a good chance for them to do so.
St. John’s will have their hands full with a decent Butler team, in a tough venue. Regardless, the Red Storm have the pieces to be a legit tournament team this season, and they should start acting like such during their next five games. If St. John’s defends the arc, and gets multiple scorers involved, they should do enough to pull out a victory.
Rumble predicted score: 82-74 St. John’s
KenPom predicted score: 77-72 Butler