St. John’s can take the good from their close call against Butler and try to translate what went right to their first true road contest of the season, a Sunday afternoon tilt against Xavier in Cincinnati.
Of course, there is the bad from the game against Butler, too — an inability to generate offense for stretches, the rough shooting from outside the arc. Against Xavier, a team that keeps opponents shooting jumpers and works hard not to give up layups, the Johnnies are going to need to run, force turnovers, and shoot.
Mustapha Heron, who had missed the past three games, will reportedly be available for the contest. LJ Figueroa, who had a rough game against Butler, will need to bring his A-game, too.
But can the Red Storm find enough offense — and enough interior defense — to stop Xavier at home?
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (11-3, 0-1) vs. Xavier Musketeers (11-3, 0-1)
When: Sunday, January 5th, 4:30 PM ET
Where: Cintas Center, Cincinnati, OH
TV: FOX | FoxSportsGo
Audio: St. John’s website provides free audio for the game. The stream can be found by clicking here.
Tickets: Tickets are available for as low as $7 each in the Cintas Center. It’s a nice arena, I’d go again.
Last Season: Xavier outscored St. John’s by 22 over two games late in the season [84-73 at home, 81-68 on the road], abusing the Red Storm inside and casting doubt about the NCAA-worthiness of Chris Mullin’s Johnnies as St. John’s dipped under .500 in league play. LJ Figueroa scored 43 in those two games, though, and a fellow named Josh Roberts hit a then-career-high eight in the first contest.
Last Big East game: St. John’s fell behind by more than 20 points before roaring back, taking the lead, but going cold at the end of the contest against Butler, a loss.
Xavier weathered a 17-0 run from Villanova and came within four points at the end of the game, but fell to the Wildcats.
The Musketeers are a tall, veteran team with a strong set of guards and a veteran big man who is going to be a problem for the Red Storm. On the floor, they have shined on the defensive end, as they have bounced around the fringes of the top-25 rankings.
The defense has been tough and balanced, getting back and covering drivers in the half court, grabbing rebounds and ending possessions.
On offense, the Musketeers miss some shots from deep — they are shooting 29% from deep and have one threat who is shooting over 33% from distance — but effective inside, able to grab offensive rebounds and reset. They can fall in love with jump shots, and they look like a team the Red Storm can speed up.
Tyrique Jones (#4), the big man, is hard to stop. Jones averaged 10.5 points and 8.5 rebounds against St. John’s last season, but he also played less of a prime offensive role last year than in this one. Without departed Zach Hankins, and to better use his fellow stars more efficiently, Jones has become a focal point.
Jones’ offensive rebounding is some of the best in the country (ranked 5th in percentage of his team’s missed shots that he grabs) and his defensive rebounding is nearly as excellent. He is shooting 52% from the field, getting to the line frequently, and is hard to muscle out of position. He’s a very good shot blocker. And he has 26 dunks, which is a lot.
Next to him on the floor, grad transfer Jason Carter (#25) has some ability to drive and shoot, along with using his height well offensively inside. Despite sometimes waiting on the wings like an outside shooter, Carter plays inside well on both ends. He gathers fewer rebounds than the other bigs.
Speaking of bigs, New Jersey’s Zach Freemantle (#32) is an agile emerging force who can dunk and rebound the offensive end.
On the wing, Naji Marshall (#13), who dropped 31 on the Red Storm last year, continues to be a versatile, high-usage wing. His outside shot continues to be sporadic, but he can drive, pass, and get to the rim very well.
Paul Scruggs (#1) and Quentin Goodin (#3) are attacking guards who are strong slashing scorers. This year, Scruggs is shooting 64% inside the arc - including a deft 56% on two-point jumpers — and Goodin is shooting 44% from deep, the Musketeers’ only true deep threat.
Backing them up are freshman guard KyKy Tandy (#24, pronounced “Kee-kee”) and grad transfer Bryce Moore (#11). Tandy missed seven games with an injury and is rounding into shape. Moore is a solid defensive player who shoots most of his shots from deep.
Keys to the Game
Make Xavier make mistakes. Nick Rutherford led the way in disrupting Butler, and he will need to do it again. LJ Figueroa’s length and activity will need to be high-level to really disrupt Xavier.
Hit shots. David Caraher has been a bit quiet in his extended time. If he can join with Mustapha Heron to open up the Red Storm offense with threes, the Johnnies will be on their way to crafting an attack that will keep the Musketeer swords confused about where to defend.
Rebound. Josh Roberts and Julian Champagnie will have their hands full with Tyrique Jones. Ian Steere, who has seen limited minutes since becoming available, and Damien Sears will need to pitch in smart minutes as well.
Being on the road will show its effects late. Rasheem Dunn will have trouble drawing fouls and the Red Storm offense will have at least two stagnant periods against the set Xavier defense. Xavier wins, 72-64.