Just a day from the NCAA Tournament debut of Shamorie Ponds and the St. John’s Red Storm in Dayton, playing in the First Four — for a chance to meet Buffalo on Friday afternoon.
St. John’s faces Arizona State, recently known as the school Lori Loughlin & her husband, designer Mossimo Giannulli REALLY didn’t want their Instagram star daughter to go to*.
It’s the 29th appearance in the NCAA Tournament (once you eliminate a vacated trip in 2002). As the final team selected, does St. John’s have anything to prove?
Not according to Chris Mullin. “It does. not. matter,” he said to the media today. “It’s a true new beginning.”
In this new beginning, the Red Storm will put the past — and some shoddy defense in the last month — behind them and just focus on the game and not getting too caught up in the moment, being the last team, playing in the play-in game.
“You’ve got to play good basketball,” Mullin said.
“It’s basketball,” said Mustapha Heron. “It’s something we’ve been doing since we were little.”
“We’ve got to let our defense be our best offense,” said Shamorie Ponds. “This is the biggest [stage]. It’s either win or go home.”
It’s the first time on the stage for Ponds and a number of the Red Storm players, but a trip back for veterans Justin Simon, Marvin Clark II and Heron.
Will that experience lead to a big win tomorrow night?
* These are just jokes, man. We respect ASU as an institution. I wasn in Tempe once and had a lot of fun! Also it’s probably more fun than USC.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (21-12, 8-10 Big East regular season) vs Arizona State Sun Devils (22-10, 12-6 Big East regular season)
Where: UD Arena, Dayton, OH (cap: 13,435)
When: Wednesday, March 20, 9:10 PM
TV: TruTV | NCAA March Madness Online
Audio: 970 AM WNYM | TuneIn Radio
Odds: Opened at Arizona State, -1
Notable alumni: Barry Goldwater Jr. (politician), Kate Spade (designer), Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman), Jimmy Kimmel (comedian/ late-night host), Audrey Bitoni (actress of NSFW material), Courtney Simpson (actress of NSFW material), Al Michaels (sportscaster), Linda Rondstadt (musician), David Spade (actor), Carl Hayden (first US Rep), Krysten Sinema (current US Senator)
Scouting Arizona State
The Red Storm face an Arizona State team that may not have great height inside, but are as big or bigger at each position comparatively. The Sun Devils played Oregon tough in the Pac-12 tournament, losing the game in overtime against a rising Ducks squad.
The Sun Devils, led by Bobby Hurley, play an uptempo game. The Sun Devil’s shooting does not stand out, especially in half court sets, but their athleticism allows them to draw a lot of fouls... and crash the offensive glass at a high rate. They are eager to take shots early in the shot clock, and interested in avoiding halfcourt play, offensively. The Sun Devils are very physical, despite the pace.
On the negative side, despite a solid record down the stretch, the Devils have not shot well from outside the arc. Their worst offensive performances (losses to Washington State and Oregon in the regular season) involved taking a higher percentage of three-pointers. ASU also commits a lot of fouls, even in wins.
The team shoots free throws poorly, and tends to attack off the dribble, with an offense that is sometimes stagnant.
At guard, sophomore Remy Martin (#1) — who played well against St. John’s in the Hall of Fame Classic last season — and freshman NBA prospect Luguentz Dort (#0) lead the way, especially in transition.
Martin has shot far better in conference play than in non-conference, reaching 38% on his threes. He’s a slashing threat, with very good passing skills. Dort is a 6’4” physical slasher who has improved his efficiency in conference play, though his three-point shooting hasn’t been consistent. He draws a lot of fouls, and he and Martin can create turnovers.
Rob Edwards (#2), a 6’4” guard who transferred from Cleveland State, adds three-point shooting from the perimeter.
Inside, Zylan Cheatham (#45) will be a problem. At 6’8”, he will lead the break at times and look for his shot, or play some secondary point guard. He is the team’s best defensive rebounder, and is willing to take threes on a limited basis. He’s the team’s best defensive rebounder.
Romello White (#23) is a 6’8” forward who can score on the inside, play physical defense, and score. He led Arizona State with 22 points in the team’s last meeting with St. John’s.
De`Quon Lake (#32) is a 6’10” senior who blocks shots and crashes the boards hard. Kimani Lawrence (#14) adds some interior scoring and will take threes. Taeshon Cherry (#35), 6’8”, is a high-level athlete with a jump shot from outside the arc.
Lake, White, Lawrence and Chatham can all be foul prone; ASU will use their depth if attacked inside the arc.
Scouting St. John’s
At their best, early in the season, St. John’s was effective at imposing an uptempo style on the floor, playing five-out basketball where all the players are a threat on the floor.
Offensively it has been solid, owing to a low turnover rate in attack mode, thought not spectacular. It is important to note, of course, that the Red Storm’s style also means that they draw very few fouls — instead shooting tough shots — and never go to the offensive glass, by choice.
Defensively... the team, so effective last season, has really felt the loss of a shot blocker. The Red Storm force turnovers, but have struggled to stifle shots inside the arc, to keep teams from shooting from deep (conference foes were ineffective shooting treys, however), and are not great at keeping determined teams from crashing the offensive glass.
The fairly consistent switching of ball screens and occasional doubling in the paint against big players has paid dividends... for opposing teams, that find favorable matchups to operate against. The Red Storm can get hurt after a rotation comes slowly, or after a close out is a step slow. Energy — and deflections — are key for the Johnnies
Those factors have contributed to giving up a lot of free throws on the defensive end.
The team shoots free throws well, but tends to attack off the dribble, with an offense that sometimes watches Shamorie Ponds or Mustapha Heron (or Justin Simon in the post) go to work.
Ponds is the engine that makes this team go. He penetrates defenses, finds teammates, and hits tough shots with great body balance.
Defensively, Justin Simon will have a hard job of either containing Dort, or, containing Martin — which might be more effective. Martin is the point guard and creator, and keeping the ball from him puts the ball in the hands of Cheatham, whose handle is good for a 6’8” player, but vulnerable, or in the hands of Dort whose aggressiveness can lead him astray.
Mustapha Heron is a physical attacking guard who the Red Storm should lean on in this matchup, finding him in halfcourt sets. hew will want to attack the hoop when given chances, instead of shooting — though he has shot well (41% on threes in conference play).
LJ Figueroa is a defensive x-factor, an offensive rebounding threat, and a solid all-around scorer, especially on broken plays and in transition.
Marvin Clark II will need to stay on the floor and out of foul trouble. His ability to launch shots from distance is solid; he could mix it up by driving to the hoop on an unsuspecting ASU squad. Clark has taken 68% of his shots from deep this season.
On the bench, Bryan Trimble Jr. earns the most time, playing a low-usage, defensive role. He will shoot wide open threes, but could use to be more aggressive in shooting/ participating in the offense. He is shooting 39% deep in conference play. If he can keep up with Dort, he might be able to match the physicality of the dynamic attacker for stretches.
Guard Greg Williams Jr. gets some minutes as well. he’s strong off the bounce with an open lane, can handle the ball a little bit, and has been a shot blocker at the guard position.
Speaking of shot blockers, the Red Storm bench includes 6’9” Sedee Keita, who is likely to see quite a few minutes against ASU’s brawn, and Josh Roberts, who is slimmer but a bigger threat on the offensive glass and in blocking shots. Marcellus Earlington has been offensively productive in limited minutes.
Keys to the Game
Stop ASU’s initial attack. Keeping ASU from going coast to coast in early offense will relegate them to their sometimes-dribble heavy halfcourt offense.
Attack of the Shamorie. Shamorie Ponds needs to come up big on both ends of the court for St. John’s, setting the pace, hitting tough shots, and forcing the issue on defense.
Compete on the glass. Arizona State may not want a slower game or a paint-based game, but that is a kind of style that they can beat St. John’s at — if the Red Storm fouls too much and/ or doesn’t do early work to beat the Sun Devils to spots on defense and on the glass.
At their best, St. John’s could make this a win. Are they at their best, though? Can they really handle a physical team that draws fouls? That aspect makes me think the win unlikely. St. John’s falls to Arizona State, 83-76.
What’s your prediction?