St. John’s did what it needed on the road trip last week, pulling out two conference road wins sandwiched around a loss at Duke. With those wins, the Johnnies are 5-5 in the Big East, with a section of the schedule to come against teams that have struggled.
Struggle or not, the Big East has played like a very even league, and the Red Storm’s structural flaws still exist. Every game is a risk, each outing dependent on the attention to detail and effort that the Red Storm put out.
Remember the game two weeks ago against Georgetown, where the players felt they were less connected? A game where the Hoyas took control?
Chris Mullin and his squad do not want a repeat of that against Providence, a team that is fully capable of delivering tough defense on the level of Duke, and interior play on the level of DePaul this season. Providence has lost three straight; expect a strong effort under the bright lights of MSG.
More on the matchup, below.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (17-6, 5-5 Big East) vs Providence Friars (13-10, 3-7 Big East)
Where: Madison Square Garden
When: Saturday, February 9th, 12:00 PM
TV: CBS Sports Network | CBS Sports Online [Link to come]
Audio: 570 WMCA | TuneIn Radio
Odds: St. John’s, -7
Last meeting: St. John’s fought a good fight, even getting crucial minutes from walk-on Justin Cole with Shamorie Ponds out with an injury, but fell 61-57 in Providence. The Johnnies also lost to Providence to start Big East play last season, kicking off an 11-game losing streak.
Rankings & School Notes
Last season final KenPom Ranking: 63 | Current KenPom Ranking: 96
School size: 4,874 (4,306 undergraduates)
School is academically known for: Business management, social sciences
Notable alumni: Richard Daley (Chicago mayor), Dr. Robert Gallo (discovered HIV caused AIDS), Chris Dodd (US Senator), Peter Farrelly (filmmaker), John O’Hurley (actor), Janeane Garofalo (actress)
Providence’s struggles may look like a surprise to some, but the fundamentals have been there for years. For the last three seasons, Ed Cooley’s squad has taken strong defense and fairly poor offense to lower-half seeds (9, 11 and 10 in 2016, 2017 and 2018, respectively).
With a younger squad, especially at point guard, the Friars sometimes look disjointed on offense. But their size and athleticism plays well on defense.
The Friars have had the best per-possession defense in the Big East, allowing 1.01 points per possession. They force turnovers on 23% of possessions in conference play, keep teams from shooting lots of threes, are effective making scoring hard inside and outside the line, and make opponents score off the dribble as they disrupt passing lanes.
Providence can run a little, but also make mistakes in transition. In the half court, Providence is not only very good, but they are able to put big, mobile defenders on Shamorie Ponds to disrupt him. Expect a mix of looks against the Johnnies, including traps at the halfcourt line and extended pressure in spurts.
Also expect a grimy looking game, filled with physicality, close defense, offensive rebounds, plus multiple scrums on the floor for loose balls. The way the Friars play, the team doesn’t ride an offensive star — it rides disruptive defense.
On offense, Providence will likely try to take advantage of their size with post-ups. As usual, expect some flex offense, running screens along the baseline to get a forward or wing an assisted shot near the rim, preferably against a favorable matchup off of a switch.
The Friars will crash the offensive glass harder than most teams the Johnnies have faced. LJ Figueroa and Sedee Keita will need to battle inside and stay out of foul trouble. Shooting two-pointers and three-pointers, Providence is at the bottom of the Big East; they are second-to-last in free throw efficiency as well.
Wing Alpha Diallo (#11), a New Yorker, is the main offensive threat. He will creatively attack off the dribble, dish out some passes, and is smooth in transition. Diallo is a strong offensive rebounder at 6’7”. Keeping him from long threes or open runs at the rim off of a pass is important. He is a very good defender, forcing steals and sticking with his cover. He can throw down a dunk in tight spaces.
Isaiah Jackson (#44) can also attack from the perimeter, though he has shot 16% from deep in Big East play. Also excellent at stealing the ball from an opponents’ hands, and at offensive rebounds at 6’6”, Jackson can drive if given an open lane.
Freshman forward Jimmy Nichols (#5) is a 6’8” energetic wing who is willing to shoot from deep, but is better off of a dribble or two to get near the rim. Watch for him more on the offensive boards; he plays hard when he gets going, but has seen limited minutes in Providence’s last four games. He blocks shots and can leap.
The great threat for St. John’s will be Providence’s interior height, led by Nate Watson (#0). The 6’10” sophomore is a decent defensive rebounder, but an excellent offensive rebounder who blocks shots. Watson has good balance and can score on post-up plays; Providence will look to find him on a few plays to test the Red Storm out.
Kalif Young (#13) is an excellent shot blocker at 6’9”, and a strong frame inside. He has been the team’s best defensive rebounder, and will be a threat on the offensive glass.
At guard, freshman David Duke (#3) is an athletic player who has functioned as one of the team’s two point guards. He’s shooting 37% from deep in Big East games but 35% inside the arc. A good defender, he can commit a fair share of fouls, but provides a long, athletic defender against point guards.
Makai Ashton-Langford (#1), relegated to a deep part of the bench by the middle of last year and first part of this year, has taken on a major role on the floor as point guard. Not a great shooter — at 38% inside the arc and 32% from deep — he has upped his passing skills and forces steals.
A.J. Reeves (#10) had a phenomenal start to the season. After an injury, he has seen limited minutes, and only got back into the starting lineup in their last game. A smooth and deft shooter when he’s going, he shot 41% from outside the arc this season. and 55% inside the arc. Providence will run their flex screen to get him a scoring look in the paint.
Maliek White (#4) and Drew Edwards (#25) will see major minutes as well at guard. Both have put up strong defensive steal numbers and can shoot from deep.
Keys to the Game
Play with energy, poise, and toughness. This won’t be a pretty game. The Friars haven’t allowed more than 80 points in a regulation finish this season, and are well-versed in making games ugly and frustrating. Justin Simon will need to play with poise on passes and drives, as will Shamorie Ponds.
Attack viciously. For the Johnnies, opportunities to run may be limited at times. The defense will rotate well. But when there are chances to drive, the Red Storm need to attack with energy and move the ball — not settle for long jump shots. Those jump shots will lead to run outs, and the kind of sloppy play Providence thrives on.
Minimize interior damage. The Johnnies need to find a way to keep the Friars off the glass on putbacks and post plays. The squad needs to slow the movement around baseline screens.
If St. John’s is serious about making a run, this is a game they need to have. With the right approach, a strong defensive effort in transition, and the ability to make something out of nothing, the Red Storm can gain revenge on Providence for the two losses last season.
St. John’s wins, 75-66.