This is a preview of the Butler game, but also, this piece is offering a way to think about this team.
St. John’s hasn’t reached the heights fans thought they would. Yes, given the composition of the team and what the staff wants to do, some struggles would be expected, especially int he paint. But a maddening inconsistency after some promising games has the fanbase at each others’ digital throats*.
*[But really, it isn’t that serious, Let’s have some fun, huh?]
I don’t really think the team is “not trying” or “not giving effort” all the time on their way to a 5-6 Big East record, after that dispiriting loss to Providence.
They play, they want to win. I’ve watched teams that have mailed it in. This is not it.
But what we do have is a team that lacks answers for both a) physicality and b) teams that can execute an aggressive, in-face defense that takes away transition opportunities and kick-out threes.
The style on court has been a combination of stubborn and unable to adjust, and a recent lull in three-point shooting has played a part.
Since the game at Villanova, St. John’s has not cracked over 30% shooting on threes against any team that is NOT named Creighton.
Those Creighton wins, and the Marquette wins, might simply be about a good matchup of styles. Both teams are willing to run, leaving space for St. John’s to attack transition mismatches. Both are willing to play smaller lineups (the Hauser brothers aren’t actually “small” but they are more wings than burly forwards).
With that in mind, Butler is a team that can execute an in-your-face defense, with a couple of capable if unspectacular bigs to boot.
Opponents have done a strong job of dictating what the game is going to look like, despite the veterans on the Red Storm roster. Matchups, then, have become key.
Flexibility s great, but for a team, there needs to be a set style that the players know and feed on that is effective and apparent from game to game. At some point, Chris Mullin’s side needs to dictate the action on the floor and impose their style, instead of falling into slowly-paced games that minimize the Johnnies strengths.
Or the team needs to rediscover their shot.
The Johnnies are back in Queens for the first time in almost a month, a venue where opponent scores aren’t greeted with a solid section of cheers. Can St. John’s find a way to get back at Butler in their rematch — and start a good stretch run in the Big East?
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (17-7, 5-6 Big East) vs Butler Bulldogs (14-10, 5-6 Big East)
Where: Carnesecca Arena (capacity: 5,602)
When: Tuesday, February 12th, 8:30 PM ET
TV: CBS Sports Network | online
Audio: 970 WNYM AM | TuneIn Radio
Odds: St. John’s, -3.5
Last Meeting: St. John’s sluggish start led to a deficit of as much as 22 points in a 80-71 loss in Indianapolis.
Last season final KenPom Ranking: 20 | Current KenPom Ranking: 52
After beating St. John’s at home, the Bulldogs proceeded to lose three straight, including two to league leaders Villanova and Marquette at home. Lavall Jordan’s team has won a pair over Seton Hall and at Georgetown behind Kamar Baldwin and a pair of efficient scoring games from Paul Jorgensen.
Jorgensen and Jordan Tucker — who reached a career-high 25 against St. John’s in the teams’ first meeting — are both from Westchester. Expect to see them try to shine in front of friends and family.
The Bulldogs are flexible on which players they will lean on outside of point guard Kamar Baldwin. Expect them to minimize transition opportunities, keep a slow pace, to battle inside, and to try to get Baldwin and Tucker going again.
St. John’s has struggled to hit three-pointers, the missing element in their attack. At home in Carnesecca, the team needs to find the touch — or find another way to generate points. Against Providence, the Red Storm couldn’t find space to get off threes, reducing their offense to drives that were often stifled.
Keys to the Game, questions version
Does the staff have some new wrinkles to get clean looks? In the past three games, from beyond the arc:
- Marvin Clark II is 3/17;
- Shamorie Ponds is 1/9;
- LJ Figueroa is 2/12.
The threes have been key to the Johnnies setting the pace and pushing opponents.
The threes are also missing.
The Johnnies have to get shots to fall from deep to find their advantage. Butler may not bang the offensive glass or draw fouls, but they have had strong shooting games in Big East play.
Ball movement and better screens could help.
Can the Red Storm slow down Baldwin and Tucker? Kamar Baldwin hit a season high 30 against the Johnnies; Jordan Tucker was freer than he’s been with Butler, reaching a career-high 24.
Justin Simon needs to hold one of them down, and the rest of the team needs to disrupt the Bulldog passing from point guard Aaron Thompson and Baldwin.
Can the Johnnies compete inside? The Bulldogs have two centers, Joey Brunk and Nate Fowler, who may not be as effective as the Friar bigs, but can cause some trouble.
Speeding the pace will be key, as will interior defense from Figueroa, Sedee Keita and (hopefully) Josh Roberts.
St. John’s pulls out a 76-72 win.