In the parity-riddled Big East, the Johnnies still have a chance to make third place, after Georgetown was disemboweled by DePaul and after Butler sheathed the Musketeers.
All the Red Storm need to do is win.
But against a surging Xavier, winning is no easy feat. The Musketeers, just over a week ago, took advantage of their size advantage, grabbing half of their misses (!) and earning 33 free throws on their way to an 11 point win.
The Red Storm need the win for the most important purpose: making the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team. The Johnnies might still make it with two more losses*; but that’s gonna be a hard conversation, and possibly an invitation to the play-in game.
(*No matter what anyone tells you, there is a level of uncertainty involved in predicting around the bubble; the NET rankings are new & the committee still makes human decisions.)
More on the matchup, and game information, below.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (20-10, 8-9 Big East) vs Xavier Musketeers (16-14, 8-9 Big East)
Where: Cintas Center (Cincinnati, OH, cap: 10,224)
When: Saturday, March 9, 5:00 PM ET
TV: Fox Sports 1 | online
Audio: 970 WNYM | online
Odds: Xavier, -2.5
What’s changed since last meeting?
The last meeting was just over a week ago. St. John’s gave up a bunch of points to a hot DePaul guard. That guard also lit Georgetown’s defense on fire and watched it crumble, if that makes readers feel any better. Then again, the Hoya defense is second-worst in the league.
Xavier lost to Butler by five. Four Musketeers reached double figures, though Naji Marshall missed a number of shots in the mid-range and outside the arc. Kamar Baldwin got to the rim and Paul Jorgensen had a strong shooting day outside the arc... and the Bulldogs only allowed 11 free throw attempts from Xavier.
Personnel-wise, St. John’s should have Mustapha Heron back on the court. Xavier should have wing Elias Harden on the floor.
Heron, if healthy and on, can provide a scoring punch in the post or the wings. He’s also another body to defend forwards like Naji Marshall, who was instrumental in all the fouls Xavier drew in Queens. Heron's dynamic play can tilt the tables on the foul disparity.
Elias Harden is a good defender. At 6’5” he has also been a decent shooter from beyond the arc. He’s not a high-usage scorer, but he’s important enough in the rotation that he will play 20 minutes in some of their wins.
The Cintas Center has been a strong home arena, but the Musketeers are 11-5 there, losing three straight conference games to Providence, Marquette and DePaul. The Musketeers have won two straight at Cintas; a win against St. John’s will make them .500 in conference play at home.
Xavier has been less turnover-prone at home, but essentially the same team. The Musketeers want to drive and use their bigs to score. On defense, they put emphasis on not fouling, and often sag or use zone to promote jump shots.
Keys to the Game
Defuse the inside players. Tyrique Jones and Naji Marshall are tough to stop; Zach Hankins takes advantage of open space and is very efficient. Hankins and Jones scored a combined 22 (evenly split), while Marshall, the more dynamic driving player, scored 31.
St. John’s needs to find a way to slow down those players. Perhaps it’s making their catches, especially Marshall’s tougher. Perhaps it is rotating better defensively to always keep a player between the Xavier big and the basket. Maybe it’s about putting enough pressure on Xavier to harry them so that the ball never gets deep in the paint.
Hit shots. Tough ones and open ones. In the previous game, perimeter shooting was solid, but conversions at the rim were not. St. John’s will need to either get to the line or hit more threes, but when give opportunity, the Red Storm players need to make plays and hit tough shots confidently. That confidence is clear in their wins. Marvin Clark II and Bryan Trimble Jr. could both see themselves playing important minutes, shooting to loosen up the Musketeer defense.
Don’t foul. Thirty-three fouls to five is a wide disparity. But instead of getting heated, picking up technical fouls or fouling harder, St. John’s needs to read the game, try a few things, see what the referees will allow.
Let’s go nuts. St. John’s WINS in Xavier for the first time since 2015, 75-71.