There have been so many changes in the basketball schedule for St. John’s, it can be a little hard to keep track. And note, of course, that change and changes have to be a huge part of this season, with the backdrop of rising rates of COVID-19 in the background.
- St. John’s cancelled the game against Texas Tech on Thursday.
- St. John’s opponents Fordham and Sacred Heart are both on “pause” after members of the respective team/ staffs tested positive for COVID-19.
- St. John’s has added contests against Stony Brook on Sunday (2:30 pm) and BYU at Mohegan Sun... tomorrow.
So let’s talk about BYU, who the Red Storm will face in Mohegan Sun, where the bubble seems to be working to keep teams playing and not quarantining with COVID.
The Cougars, picked to finish second behind Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference, bring a new challenge for the Johnnies: shooting skill coupled with height.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (3-0) vs. Brigham Young Cougars (3-1)
When: Wednesday, December 2, 2020, 5:00 PM
Where: Mohegan Sun, Connecticut
TV: ESPN2 | Watch ESPN
Audio: St. John’s website provides free audio for the game.
Tickets: Mohegan Sun has gamblers, but no fans.
Last Meeting: St. John’s defeated BYU at the Cougar Classic in Provo, UT, in 1990.
Brigham Young was set to be an NCAA Tournament darling last season, with five seniors who could all shoot, a late-season run that included a win over Gonzaga, and a new coach who had the team clicking.
In the same universe, St. John’s was halfway to knocking off Creighton.
Pandemic happens, and that BYU team is a solid coulda been, shoulda been as they enter Mark Pope’s second year as head coach after coming over from Utah Valley State. Do you know how far he moved offices?
Five miles. The colleges are five miles away. Most of the population and the Division 1 colleges in Utah are in one valley to the east of the Great Salt Lake.
Now you know something about Utah.
The Cougars leave behind a style that will happily pass around the perimeter, work screens for shots beyond the arc, and be willing to attack and score at all five positions... while completely avoiding offensive rebounding or drawing fouls on the offensive side.
On defense, the team seems to play man defense, getting opponents off the three-point line while not fouling — essentially, trading twos for their own threes in a fast-paced, free flowing game that plays to BYU’s ball moving/ shooting skill.
That works well when the team is experienced and the defense is competent and the turnovers are low. But this year’s team welcomes back Alex Borcello (#13), bench forwards Kolby Lee (#40) and Connor Harding (#44) (both from Idaho), and a number of transfers and newcomers to the squad; there is a lot of newness on the floor, but also a lot of size, depth and, given the players who have gone on two-year Mormon missions, physical maturity.
Against Southern Cal, BYU fell after a decent start petered into a low-speed chase of the talent and skill of the Trojans. The Cougars weren’t bad, but they didn’t make their shots, and their bigs seemed prone to losing control of the ball in the paint.
Scouting the BYU guards
The aforementioned Barcello (a transfer from Arizona before last season) shares ballhandling duties with Utah Valley (and Oklahoma State) transfer Brandon Averette (#4). Both are quick enough to take advantage of St. John’s mistakes in transition.
Barcello is an attacking sniper who has increased his assist rates immensely this season, tallying at least two in each game. He has also increased his usage rate. He does not draw fouls and rarely commits them. Averette is a quick guard who does not score well inside the arc; he does not draw many fouls or commit many fouls.
Gonzaga transfer Jesse Wade (#10) played minutes against USC as well.
The BYU bigs who will be trouble for the Red Storm
Former Purdue center Matt Haarms (#3) comes to BYU with all the promise of a 7’3” shot blocker who has played three years of major minutes in the Big Ten. He’s solid on offense, knows he is tall, gets offensive rebounds and can even shoot the occasional three. His shot blocking is excellent, but like many shot blockers, his defensive rebounding is lacking relative to his size.
Fellow big man Kolby Lee is a strongly built 6’9” man who is the master of the “Quickie Monster”, which is less dirty than it sounds. He will put up a shot after a pick and roll and even shoot from deep. He doesn’t draw a lot of fouls, but he has been known to pick up foul trouble. He has been a good offensive rebounder but hasn’t made a mark on the defensive glass in his years at BYU.
Fellow big Richard Harward (#42) came over from head coach Mark Pope’s old program, Utah Valley, like Averette and bench player Wyatt Lowell (#1). Harward, 6’11”, shows signs of being both a good defensive rebounder and a player who draws fouls. Lowell is 6’10” but mostly an outside shooter — with a good touch.
Caleb Lohner (#33) is a 6’8” forward with muscle who has not connected on any of his 11 three-point attempts this season. That’s the kind of setup for a “who is this guy?” shooting night.
Fearless and confident wing Connor Harding is 6’6” and shoots from deep. He doesn’t draw fouls, and rarely commits them. Tevin Knell (#21) is a 6’5” wing who can shoot as well.
in stretches, newcomer wing Gideon George (#5) looked like an interesting player who needs a confidence-building game to be quite a difference maker. He is 6’6” and able to elevate; coming in to BYU from New Mexico Junior College, he was known as an aggressive rebounder.
Keys to the Game
On paper, this seems like the kind of game where St. John’s and BYU both want to run, but St. John’s can out-athlete them — especially if the Johnnies can force BYU to play small to keep up.
But, if BYU isn’t turning the ball over/ get second chances from offensive rebounds, they will get their share of shots. A team hitting threes while goading St. John’s into twos is a recipe for an upset.
Make the pace chaos, not just fast. BYU loves to get up and down; they are excellent at being offensively aggressive and don’t hang their heads when things get a little loose on defense. St. john’s has to make the Cougars think that Johnnies are coming up through the floorboards to steal the ball; the pace has to be frenetic and out of control.
Man the glass. BYU has a lot of tall players who, given the instruction, could crash the offensive glass. The Johnnies have to do the work on both the offensive and defensive boards. This could be a game where Arnaldo Toro and Isaih Moore loom large, if they play tough in the paint.
More opportunities. The Red Storm will find themselves struggling if they are not drawing fouls, hitting enough threes to keep the opponent honest, and stealing the ball — all in the service of getting 10+ more shots from the field than BYU does.
Not feeling comfortable about this one, given the Red Storm’s youth and late-game struggles against Boston College. But the Boston College team had better shot-makers and a bit more maturity in the back court.
If the Johnnies can avoid enough mistakes — bad fouls/ frustration fouls, letting a BYU player get hot — they should handle this one, 82-76.