The regular season comes to a close with a matchup against Marquette. Seniors Justin Cole, Thomas O’Connell, Nick Rutherford and Mustapha Heron will have their final regular season game (though of that group, only Nick Rutherford is likely to play and log significant minutes).
No outcome of this game creates seeding implications for St. John’s in the Big East Tournament. The Red Storm swept DePaul (one game below in the standings) and were swept by Georgetown (one game above in the standings). Win or lose, the Johnnies are in the ninth spot in the conference tournament, and will face Georgetown at 7 PM next Wednesday.
Still, in front of the home fans for a noon time tip, the Johnnies have one more chance at an upset victory, another chance to build on the execution the team displayed in Carnesecca Arena a week ago.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (15-15, 4-13 Big East) vs. Marquette Golden Eagles (18-11, 8-9 Big East)
When: Saturday, March 7, 12:00 PM
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
TV: FSN/ YES/ WWOR 9 | Fox Sports Online
Audio: St. John’s website provides free audio for the game. The stream can be found by clicking here.
Tickets: Tickets can be obtained for as low as $21.
Last Meeting: The Red Storm could not keep pace with the Golden Eagles in Milwaukee and fell to 1-6 in league play after the 82-68 loss.
Last Big East game: In Indianapolis, St. John’s got a breakout first half from Julian Champagnie, but stifling defense in the second half by Butler turned a close game into a Butler rout, 77-55.
Marquette stumbled at DePaul, who edged Marquette late, 69-68.
Let’s focus on three things.
1/ the basics. Marcus Howard scores like your unwatched Hot Pocket* gets hot in the microwave. This relates to thing #2, but we will get there. Howard has put up 136 points in Marquette’s last four games. And they have gone 1-3 in those games.
*not an ad, but if Hot Pockets wants to pay me, HMU.
The defense has been a factor. As described by our friends Anonymous Eagle, Paint Touches, and others, the defense has a level of general indifference to pressure. They don’t force it, and sometimes they don’t track back well on defense in transition (vs DePaul... but, the Demons had some opportunities when the pace of the game was fast!).
But outside of Sacar Anim, the rest of the starting lineup has been very very quiet. Koby McEwen has been held to single-digit scoring outputs in his last four games. Brendan Bailey has been hit-or-miss.
It’s great to have a guy dropping 30+ a game, but clearly, the Big East isn’t a league where a team can be consistently successful when everyone else is playing spectator.
One player who has stepped up a bit is center Jayce Johnson; the seven-footer has three straight game with 10 total rebounds or more. In the last two games he has averaged five offensive rebounds per contest.
2/ In the last game. St. John’s could not keep up. But one thing the Johnnies did well, personnel-wise, was give Nick Rutherford the assignment of being a Markus Howard cloak. A few foul calls that looked spurious got in the way. So did an early foul in the second half, and some intemperate Nick Rutherford words that earned his fourth foul.
And when Rutherford was not on the floor in the early going, Markus Howard heated up. Defensively, the Red Storm need to rotate better and bother spot-up shooters in corners. Howard is a great shooter given any space to shoot coming off of a ball screen; if the Johnnies can get him to drive inside, they need to bother Howard’s dribble when they force him into the paint.
3/ The Johnnies’ performance in Indianapolis had some strength early on, and a second breakout performance from the surging Julian Champagnie was a boon to the Johnnies.
But a scoreless Rasheem Dunn was a surprise. Dunn has had two single-digit games in Bg East play, but against Butler, he attempted no threes, had 0 assists for the first time since Providence, and was a non-factor.
Clearly, that is not the kind of scoring-hungry performance we have seen from Dunn. Yes, LJ Figueroa was not particularly efficient, yes the team drew only seven foul shots. Yes, then bench of David Caraher, Damien Sears and Nick Rutherford combined for four points on 2/12 shooting and six fouls committed.
But Rasheem Dunn’s quickness is an engine that helps this team create end-to-end disruption.
Keys to the game
Speed and disruption. St. John’s needs to put enough pressure on Marquette defensively — aggressively attacking the basket, moving the ball, running hard in transition — to hurry the Golden Eagles’ shooting. That won’t make Marquette inefficient, but when they are going end to end, St. John’s is in their element. A slow game like match against Butler is not in the Red Storm’s best interest. A fast game will get the crowd going.
A big performance. The Johnnies need another big performance from one of their starters (or multiple starters). Some player has to put up an electric performance and draw Marquette’s attention — allowing other players to get free and make plays. It doesn’t just have to be shooting — though a combined Greg Williams Jr./ Julian Champagnie performance would be helpful. It could be on the offensive glass. It could be defensively.
Shots at the rim. Maybe someone will shoot 7/10 from outside the arc. Since that is not likely, the Red Storm need to run their offense, find mismatches, and get themselves all the way to the rim.
Why not? 81-77, St. John’s win.