The west coast welcomes St. John’s for a unique non-conference opportunity against the Pac-12’s resurgent Arizona Wildcats in San Francisco’s Chase Center.
The Johnnies, coming off of a sound beating of the Albany Great Danes, face a much tougher opponent in Arizona, one that has the athletic ability and skill to run, even more than Arizona State. The Red Storm, far from home and facing a very talented opponent, will find a high-end test before moving on to Big East conference play.
The game will also be a chance to see Ian Steere, the transfer, on the court. Can his size and strength — next to a St. John’s squad that is getting into the rhythm of their defensive-minded attack — defuse Arizona and send the Johnnies back from the Bay with a W?
“We’re just trying to get better each and every time out. We’re playing against a very-talented-like Arizona team. Size, quickness, they’re one of the top scoring teams in the country, rebounding teams, shooting teams, so it’s a big challenge... I’m sure our guys are looking forward to the opportunity to go out and just trying to contend to find out where we are at this time of the year.”
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (10-2) vs.Arizona Wildcats
When: Saturday, December 21st, 10:00 PM ET
Where: Chase Arena, San Francisco, CA
TV: ESPN2 and WatchESPN
Audio: St. John’s website provides free audio for the game. That stream can be found by clicking here.
Tickets: You can secure a seat for $42.50 or more by clicking here.
Last Meeting: St. John’s faced Arizona in Madison Square Garden, falling by nine in a game that was closely contested until Nurideen Lindsey fouled out.
University of Arizona alumni: Richard Russo (novelist, Empire Falls), Samaire Armstrong (actress, The OC), Garry Shandling (actor, The Garry Shandling Show), Don Knotts (actor, Three’s Company), Savannah Guthrie (The Today Show), Caroline Rhea (Sabrina, The Teenage Witch), David Foster Wallace (author, Infinite Jest), Kate Walsh (actress, Bad Judge, Grey’s Anatomy), Robert Wood Johnson IV (Johnson & Johnson heir, US Ambassador to the UK), Kristen Wiig (actress, Saturday Night Live), Kourtney Kardashian (Kardashian), Linda Rondstadt (musician), Bob Dole (politician), Barry Goldwater (politician)
The Wildcats’ offense stands out. Watching them on the court, despite playing three freshmen, Arizona generates scoring opportunities fairly relentlessly. They play at a fast pace but are under control. They are in the nation’s top-20 in protecting the ball, turning over possession on 16% of their chances. They are top 30 in two-point shooting percentage (55%) and in three-point percentage (39%), and get to the line at a solid clip. They also crash the offensive glass well.
Defensively, they are solid, holding good offensive teams Illinois and Baylor under 0.9 points per possession. They have given up over 1.0 point per possession three times this season, against teams that have shot well from distance — UPenn, Pepperdine, and Gonzaga. Teams have seen some success crashing the offensive glass and making shots inside, but few have been able to sustain that success and win.
The offense is run by talented top-10 freshman Nico Mannion (#1). He is fast up the court, fast with the ball, and makes excellent passes. A solid outside shooter, he also has the hops to finish at the rim. The Wildcats space the floor well, making him harder to contain.
Mannion gets some ballhandling help from grad transfer Max Hazzard (#5), who has struggled with his scoring in recent games. He has some skill and shooting, and can explode on a team like St. John’s if they are not careful. Jemarl Baker (#10) is mostly an outside shooter who contributes assists to the squad.
Josh Green (#0) is another top-10 freshman; his athleticism and scoring skill make him difficult to guard, especially when he turns a corner and starts downhill. He draws a lot of fouls and forces quite a few steals. He has 14 dunks on the season. Dylan Smith (#3), a 6’5” senior, adds some scoring punch outside the arc.
Up front, freshman Zeke Nnaji (#22) is 6’11” and very athletic. He runs the floor well; watch out for him on the secondary break, waiting to slam home a miss. He has 16 dunks on the season, 22nd in the country (but behind Josh Roberts, who has 17 so far this year). Big man Chase Jeter (#4), a senior, may be a little foul prone, but he is also a very talented center; the only comparable pair of bigs the Johnnies have seen with this level of talent were on West Virginia.
Keys to the Game
St. John’s may be without scorer Mustapha Heron for this matchup in San Francisco. That’s not ideal, for Heron is a high-level scorer with a lot of big games under his belt. He also shoots threes, an aspect of the game the remaining Red Storm players have struggled to be consistent in.
Still, the Johnnies get Ian Steere, the 6’9” big man transfer who played a few minutes at NC State before deciding he wanted to move on, eligible. We do not know quite what he will show on the floor; he played limited minutes, and it is hard to extrapolate from that to what his in-game strengths and weaknesses will be.
But he adds size, which will help fill in from the bench without sacrificing a scoring deterrent inside the arc.
Throw them off rhythm. The Red Storm are not the kind of team that adjusts heavily from opponent to opponent; they want to put stress on normal basketball moves, hurry their opponents, and force mistakes. The Wildcats may be talented, but many of them are young.
If the defense of Nick Rutherford and Greg Williams, Jr. can throw Nico Mannion off rhythm, if they can get the ball out of his hands, the Red Storm have a shot at forcing stilted, halfcourt offense — and missed jump shots — from the Wildcats.
Find points. Will they score from the three-pointer via David Caraher? Will they get enough layup and putback opportunities from Josh Roberts and Julian Champagnie? Will LJ Figueroa’s runner fall? Will Marcellus Earlington’s bully ball generate scores and free throw attempts? Whatever they do, the Johnnies need to find consistent scoring on the floor.
Can they keep from being overwhelmed? The team will be 3,000 miles from home with few Red Storm fans (will Chris Mullin come out to see them, perhaps?); can they maintain their composure overall? Can they defend without committing silly fouls? Will they battle on the glass?
The Red Storm play well in spurts, but a few moments, and run out scores from Arizona, earn the Wildcats a comfortable win. Arizona wins a ragged game, 79-68.