After a “testing irregularity” — a false positive? — St. John’s is cleared to play once again after having to postpone their game against the DePaul Blue Demons on Saturday.
St. John’s runs, instead, into a team that has been a problem for them for years, Xavier, on the road. Xavier has not played in a week, but St. John’s has not played in two and a half weeks. Will the layoff leave them rested or rusty? Will we see an improved togetherness in the team?
When: Wednesday, January 6, 2021, 8:00 PM
Where: Cintas Center, Cincinnati, OH
TV: CBS Sports Network | online
Recent history: St. John’s has lost — ... — the last 11 meetings between the two teams.
Here’s what we know about Xavier: they are strong, experienced, good on offense, and maybe... a bit lucky? The Musketeers have lost two straight Big East games to Creighton and Seton Hall, both good teams, and lost to Marquette, also a solid team.
But before Big East play, they had a good win over Oklahoma, and, despite some very good interior defense, have found themselves scraping by Toledo, Bradley and (in overtime) Eastern Kentucky. Each of those teams is very good in their respective conferences, but the point is that the Musketeers are perhaps less dominant than their record.
The Musketeers have played a somewhat deliberate pace overall, but are happy to send their guards running in transition. They have been excellent scoring inside and outside the arc, but have tended toward jump shots, drawing few fouls (and similarly few offensive rebounds).
On defense, expect a lot of help, a hard road to get to the basket in the halfcourt. They rebound the defensive end well, block shots, and stick to positional defense vs. causing turnovers.
For the Red Storm, Naji Marshall may be gone, but the Musketeers still have Paul Scruggs as a big-bodied guard who can create buckets to worry about. KyKy Tandy (#24), a 6’2” sophomore, has seen his minutes wane recently as Belmont transfer guard and shooter Adam Kunkel (#5) and New Jersey freshman CJ Wilcher (#0) have seen more minutes.
Point guard Dwan Odom (#11), a freshman, is a solid defender, passer, and is strongly built. He started seven games before missing two contests while sidelined with COVID-19. Nate Johnson (#10), a transfer from Gardner-Webb University, has shot over 50% from beyond the arc. Johnson will have corner three opportunities against the St. John’s defense.
Up front, Zach Freemantle (#32) is staking his claim to being one of the best bigs in the league. The New Jersey forward is 6’9”, quick on offense, and has a solid jump shot out to the three-point line. He has shot 62% inside the arc and 41% from deep; he dropped 28 points on Oklahoma in the Xavier win. Jason Carter (#25) continues to score effectively inside the arc as well.
Transfer Bryan Griffin, who graduated from Division II Mercy College in Rockland County, NY, provides strength and depth inside. Ben Stanley, a 6’6” transfer from Hampton University, is another big body who was deemed eligible in time for the Musketeers’ three Big East games.
Keys to the Game
Big defensive cohesion. St. John’s has to make this game mistake-filled and sloppy, slowing the Musketeers down in their early offense. The team has to communicate, react and cover the three-point attempts Xavier will try.
Interior defense. Against the slimmer Red Storm, expect Xavier to press their advantages with Zach Freemantle and their other big bodies. I’d expect the Musketeers to try for some offensive rebounds, especially if the Johnnies manage to effectively force turnovers. The Red Storm bigs have to play a very good, foul-free game.
Find shots. St. John’s is going to need to put up points, and not just in transition. The team has a number of players who are willing to shoot; those players have to make the shots tonight.
Let’s go with Xavier 82-71.