St. John’s bounced back from a Big East opener loss on the road to clap Marquette by 20. That game was the first of many tests for a Red Storm team that has big aspirations.
Georgetown, however, brings a different kind of challenge than the slick-shooting Golden Eagles. The Red Storm lost a pair of lackluster efforts against the Hoyas during the 11-game losing streak, struggling to find rhythm, get running, and execute late.
This St. John’s squad may have much more talent. And the Johnnies did defeat the Hoyas in the conference tournament. But the Red Storm last won in DC behind Marcus Hatten in 2003. It’s been a long time, and behind the momentum of history, a number of bigs, and an improving roster, the Hoyas will look to defeat the Red Storm in DC yet again.
There have been changes for the Johnnies; Mikey Dixon, the sophomore guard who transferred from Quinnipiac, has left the program, seeking more playing time.
Will the Red Storm be able to weather the Hoya bigs? Can they find new balance in the rotation? Can they finally earn a regular-season win over the Hoyas?
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (13-1, 1-1 Big East) at Georgetown Hoyas (11-3, 1-0 Big East)
Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, DC (20,600)
When: Saturday, January 5, 1:00 PM
TV: CBS | CBS Sports Online
Audio: 570 WMCA | TuneIn Radio
Odds: St. John's, -2
Rankings & School Notes
Last season final KenPom Ranking: 94 | Current KenPom Ranking: 94
School size: 19,005 (7,463 undergraduates)
School is academically known for: foreign service/ politics
Notable alumni [royalty/ foreign heads of state]: King Abdullah II (Jordan), Crown Prince Hussein (Jordan), Zaljko Komisic (President of Bosnia’s Croatian faction. It’s a really confusing system, you should read about it.), King Felipe VI (Spain), Saad Hariri (Prime Minister of Lebanon), Prince Guillaume (Luxembourg), Prince Turki al Faisal (Saudi Arabia), Crown Prince Pavlos (Greece), Princess Noor Pahlavi (Iran)
There was a three-game stretch where the Hoyas couldn’t get out of their way, where they fell to Southern Methodist, and struggled to put away Appalachian State and Little Rock.
But the win against Butler was fairly decisive. The Hoyas shot 55% from outside the arc, assisted on nearly 60% of their shots, and forced 15 turnovers from the Bulldogs (19% of their possessions), getting the uptempo pace Georgetown hoped to coax from the game.
Ah, but there were warts — the 56% free throw shooting (much of the damage by one player), and the same number of turnovers as Butler (much of the damage by one player).
On the season, the Hoyas have played at one of the nation’s fastest tempos (9th nationally). They have gotten themselves to the free throw line frequently and kept opponents off the line on the other end, while blocking shots and stifling 2-point shooting. They are long up front, even if they have played a pair of shorter guards for much of the season.
Befitting their size, Georgetown has also been a very good defensive rebounding team. Also befitting their size, the Hoyas look for their offense inside tge arc, leaning on tripos to the line for a lot of their scoring, assisting on teammates’ shots at a high level (61% of shots are assisted, 19th nationally).
They do leave gaps for three-point shooters to exploit on the perimeter. And, like, St. John’s, played a soft non-conference schedule.
The Hoyas have been missing star freshman guard Mac McClung (the dunking sensation) and also Trey Mourning (Alonzo’s son). McClung is recovering from an ankle injury and Mourning is recovering from a concussion. Both are game time decisions tomorrow.
The Hoyas will run in transition, and depend on the point guards to facilitate. A number of players are solid passers, and the Butler game featured some big man to big man passing that the Johnnies will want to watch for out of double teams.
The core of the Hoyas is Queens big man Jessie Govan (#15), a 6’10” senior who scored 18, 16 and 28 points in three meetings last year against the Red Storm. He also shot 37%, 36% and 43% inside the arc in those three games — shooting with volume and not dominating the offensive glass.
If St. John’s can restrict or hurry his touches and keep him off the line, the team will be in a better position to contend against the Hoyas. Govan has a smooth outside touch when he’s given a moment to set, and has the second-best three-point shooting percentage on the team at 44%.
Freshman Josh LeBlanc (#23) has been a revelation inside for the Hoyas. At 6’7”, 230 pounds, he is a rim-running, shot-blocking, rebounding everything, ball-stealing force from Baton Rouge. Keeping him from the rim in transition is a priority. Note that he shot 2/9 from the free throw line against Butler. LeBlanc played AAU ball with St. John’s Greg Williams Jr. on the 15U level.
Trey Mourning (#33) has finally earned time with Georgetown, grabbing offensive rebounds and scoring inside the arc. The 6’9” forward does have range to the perimeter... but is only 2/13 from deep.
Freshman Grayson Carter (#35) is 6’8” and sees minutes as well.
Perhaps it has been the weakness of the opponents, but Georgetown has generally seen the ballhandling guards Mac McClung (#2) and James Akinjo (#3) take up more possessions than Govan has. Akinjo, a 6’0” decommit from Connecticut, is a slick passer who makes a fair share of ballhandling mistakes and errant passes. He’s a solid outside shooter when he gets a clear look. And he is quick into the lane, create opportunities for the wings and bigs.
McClung has been pretty solid on the attack and a decent outside shooter (his game at Syracuse notwithstanding). Jahvon Blair (#0) has been strictly an outside shooter this season, connecting on 39% of his shots from distance. At 6’3”, he and Jagan Mosely (#4) can provide a slightly longer defensive look for the Hoyas. Mosely is a slasher who has more free throw attempts than field goal attempts this year.
Greg Malinowski (#11) made quite an impression in his Big East conference play debut against Butler, posting a career-high 26 points off of screens, drives to the hoop, and smart plays. The 6’6” wing has been a very good rebounder and a strong (and quick!) passer/ decision-maker for the Hoyas.
It would be hard to expect that kind of performance from him again, but he will be heard from.
Sophomore Jamorko Pickett (#1) has continued his promising play from last season, defending solidly and blocking shots at 6’8”, 205, and quite mobile. He is willing to move the ball and rebound. He has, however, shot 7/25 inside the arc (28%) this season, a decline from his already-poor 37% last year. At least he is taking fewer shots. Outside the arc, he is shooting 36%. Making him drive into traffic will improve the Johnnies defense.
Kaleb Johnson (#32), a 6’7” wing, has seen more minutes in the past five games. A starter all of last season, Johnson is solid inside the arc and can range out to the three-point line.
Keys to the Game
Make scoring hard. St. John’s needs to get back in transition, keeping the feet moving and working to deflect passes. Making the Hoyas re-set in their halfcourt offense and making them question transition opportunities will slow down the offense. Justin Simon and LJ Figueroa’s ability to read dangerous opportunities will be key. Defenders need to stay on their feet on ball-fakes; the Hoyas want to get inside the arc.
Attack and move. Ball movement is key for any St. John’s game. Against a tall opponent inside, the ball movement is essential. A number of the Hoya defenders can get lost through screens, creating scoring and shooting opportunities.
Find a way on the glass. As always against Georgetown, the Red Storm need to find a way to keep them from grabbing second chance opportunities on the glass. Is this a game where Sedee Keita shines? Is this a game where Marvin Clark II is saddled with foul trouble?
Wouldn’t be surprised if Georgetown won this one, but here’s going with the idea that St. John’s is legitimately hard-to-guard, locked in, and good. 82-70, St. John’s.