The Johnnies no longer have DePaul on the schedule. And after the loss to Georgetown — a game where the Red Storm seemed to be running away with the W well into the second half — confidence that things will turn around will be key.
Confidence is just a word, a platitude, and what the Johnnies really need is more balanced performance up and down the roster. The Bluejays will be tough — an experienced squad that shoots very well from deep, tied for third in the Big East standings, one of four ranked teams in the league.
Fun fact that may give some hope: Creighton coach Greg McDermott is 2-6 against Mike Anderson, back when Anderson was at Missouri and McDermott was at Iowa State.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (13-10, 2-8 Big East) vs. #21 Creighton Bluejays (17-6, 6-4 Big East)
When: Saturday, February 8th, 6:00 PM ET (5:00 PM Central)
Where: CHI Health Center Omaha, Omaha, NE
TV: CBS Sports | CBS Sports
Audio: St. John’s website provides free audio for the game. The stream can be found by clicking here.
Tickets: If you are traveling to Omaha, you can get in on the upper levels for $18.50 or more.
Last Season in Omaha: St. John’s completed a sweep of Creighton in Omaha with the 83-67 win, breaking a five-game losing streak at Creighton.
Last Big East game: St. John’s had a 17 point lead but “played not to lose” in coach Mike Anderson’s words, and fell late to Georgetown, 73-72.
Creighton was up 10 on Providence before falling victim to hot shooting in the second half from Providence and fell, 73-56.
After some attrition, Creighton is not tall, and they have flaws on the defensive end, but they have been offensively dominant. The Bluejays have picked up very good wins this season — on the road at Villanova, on the road at Arizona State and at home against Texas Tech. They have one home loss, the Villanova.
Offense: The offensive attacked is ranked 11th nationally in tempo-neutral metrics and is first in the Big East, powered by three-point shooting and making sure they don’t turn the ball over. They hit 36% of their deep shots and take 40% of their shots from deep in league play. They won’t crash the offensive glass, and they don’t often get to the line (as one would expect with an outside-shooting team.
Defense: The Bluejays don’t block shots, and are not a great defensive rebounding team. Nor do they force turnovers. They will be solid in their positioning and won’t send opponents to the line with cheap fouls.
Personnel: Creighton relies on their big three for big minutes. Guards Mitch Ballock (36 minutes per game), Ty-Shon Alexander (35 min/ game) and Marcus Zegarowski (35 min/ game) each play about 90% of the team’s minutes. Damien Jefferson, Denzel Mahoney and Christian Bishop, two forwards, handle a chunk of the rest of the minutes, with Kelvin Jones logging some time and walk-on Jett Canfield — now holding a scholarship — seeing minutes.
Marcus Zegarowski (#11) is the main ballhandler, and is not afraid to shoot it; he takes the highest percentage of shots on the team of the regulars who play more than 50% of the team’s minutes.
A sophomore point guard, he is somewhat less efficient but quite explosive in big games. He scored 32 against Texas Tech and 30 against rival Nebraska. He’s a good passer and has a slippery handle, but mostly takes jump shots. Getting him off-rhythm and slowing him in transition will be key.
Veterans Ty-Shon Alexander (#5) and Mitch Ballock (#24) are low-turnover scorers. Alexander will drive to the basket but has scored more of his points from outside the arc. He actually draws fouls. Ballock has refined his shot and is a quick trigger from the perimeter. Ballock will pull up from well beyond the arc and is shooting with confidence.
Christian Bishop (#13) is the true inside player, but is only 6’7” and listed at 205 pounds. He rebounds like a wing — good on the offensive end getting second chances, not great against size on the other side. He draws some fouls and does most of his damage very close to the basket; he is also the team’s one true dunk threat.
The 6’5” junior Damien Jefferson (#23) can shoot from outside and rebounds a little — good on the offensive end getting second chances, not great against size on the other side. Jefferson will take more jumpers than Bishop does.
Denzel Mahoney (#34), a transfer from Southeast Missouri State, will shoot the ball when he’s on the floor. Undersized but strong, Mahoney can score from outside the arc (though he has struggled from deep this season), get to the line, and score at the rim. He is athletic enough to force the occasional steal.
Kelvin Jones (#43), who played at UTEP, Odessa Junior College (he played with LJ Figueroa), and Idaho State, provides size inside at 6’11”. He is a good rebounder and could see time to give the Johnnies a different look.
Keys to the Game
Clearly, the Red Storm needs to defend the three, and manage the raucous Omaha crowd. With 17,000 people in a fully packed gym wearing all blue, Omaha can be a tough place to play.
Control the pace. Creighton will happily play an uptempo game, despite playing a number of games at a moderate pace. St. John’s needs to dictate when running will happen, and stifle the Jays from getting easy run-outs and open shots on the wings. Deflections and smart, hounding defense will be key.
Get inside. The Johnnies may not have big interior presences, but the Johnnies’ developing bigs — Josh Roberts and Marcellus Earlington — should be given a shot to influence the game on offense.
Confidence. The Red Storm need to shoot and attack with confidence, forgetting about the struggles. For players like LJ Figueroa and Mustapha Heron, they have been successful before, and need to get back to that level of confidence again.
St. John’s puts up a good fight but falls, 81-65, to the Bluejays.