It’s a good things fans don’t have to get to the game, because the St. John’s/ Creighton matchup will be played in the aftermath of a large snowstorm outside. The cutouts are all in place in Carnesecca Arena, however, hoping to see a repeat of the Greg Williams explosion last March — or the Big East Tournament game where the Johnnies were in the lead of the Bluejays.
Yes, the Red Storm enjoyed unprecedented success against the Big East’s team in Omaha last season.
The sharpshooting Jays are likely to want a bit of revenge — especially after dropping their Big East opener to Marquette.
Both the Red Storm and the Bluejays want to get back into the win column in the league. Which team will be successful?
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (5-3, 0-2 Big East) vs. #9 Creighton Bluejays (4-2, 0-1 Big East)
When: Thursday, December 17, 2020, 7:00 PM
Where: Carnesecca Arena
TV: FS1 | online
Recent history: Creighton, who had won a number of games against St. John’s, discovered the Greg Williams buzzsaw last March and fell at Carnesecca, before being down at halftime during the Big East Tournament as the season was cancelled.
Around here, of course, we like to note that the season ended with the Johnnies in the lead at the end of the last game, which sounds like a win, right? Right. (Creighton fans, just let us have this. We’ll be dining out on that factoid for a while.)
A few things about their last game:
The Jays played a small lineup and saw Marquette shoot 57% from outside the arc, 51% inside the arc, and grab 44% of their own misses. It’s a good thing Creighton rarely turns the ball over and shoots so many threes — Mitch Ballock, in particular, went off, hitting 8/14 — because their defense did them no favors.
Once again, the Bluejays can rack up points, allowing the ninth fewest turnovers per 100 possessions, scoring nearly 62% inside the arc and 37% from deep, and taking nearly half their shots from outside the arc. But also, once again, the Bluejays do not defend well, especially on the perimeter, do not foul much, and on an off shooting game, could be quite vulnerable.
Here’s the thing: St. John’s defense is not in sync, jumping for steals but failing to perform basic coverage duties in the corners/ on threes. Creighton already gets those shots. There’s only so good a college shooting team can be (famous last typed words!), so it’s not like Rider or Georgetown elevating their game. The Bluejays are going to get theirs; if St. John’s can run and make a few shots, it will be closer than expected.
None of this is to say St. John’s will win, but consider that the Red Storm’s defense did harry Mitch Ballock and Marcus Zegarowski, the Bluejays two veteran stars, into a combine 2/15 outing.
Zegarowski, the Big East’s preseason Player of the Year and a Massachusetts native, is a quick point guard with ability to score on all three levels, but he rarely gets to the free throw line. Ballock is more judicious with his shot choices, but he is the kind of confident shooter whose range is “a step inside of half court” at times. Point guard Shereef Mitchell is quick, but still a developing sophomore.
Less judicious with his shot choices is wing Denzel Mahoney, who will sometimes try to shoot himself out of any perceived slump. He will tend more toward jumpers than drives. New forward Antwann Jones, a transfer from Memphis, provides good athleticism and rebounding inside at 6’6”, and will also shoot from deep. He is more willing to drive — and draw fouls.
Also consider that the Red Storm’s big issue this season has been playing against height, and that Creighton plays a 6’7” “center” in Christian Bishop alongside a pair of 6’5” players. Freshman Ryan Kalkbrenner and junior Jacob Epperson have not played many minutes, but stand at 7’ sand 6’11”, respectively.
Bishop is active and energetic and will get to the line. His rebounding has been very good given his size.
Keys to the Game
Force them to the dribble. Letting any Creighton team free rein to move the ball around, to catch and shoot, is a mistake. Easier said than done, but getting the Bluejays off the three-point line and making them work/ dribble for shots is key.
Get big. In a game like this, Isaih Moore has to concentrate on being tall (rather than being a shooter), as does Marcellus Earlington. Their size and interior ability could swing the ‘Jays to adjust their game plans and lineups to account for them.
Make fewer mistakes. Games are long and have many moving parts. But if St. john’s was playing the medium-low mistake basketball of last season, they might have two Big East wins. The giveaways when the Johnnies were gaining momentum were killers. Posh Alexander, Vince Cole and other ballhandlers have to play fast but with vision and caution.
Creighton wins 89-82