Tomorrow, St. John’s has their biggest non-conference challenge of the season when they face the Kansas Jayhawks, one of the best teams in the country who are currently ranked 8th in the AP Poll.
The matchup between the Johnnies and Jayhawks is part of the third annual Big East-Big 12 Battle, and is also the first ever college basketball game being played in UBS Arena, the New York Islanders’ new arena that is located in Elmont, New York.
The Red Storm had a dominant first two games against a couple of weak opponents, but since then have looked very inconsistent, losing to Indiana and scraping out struggle wins against three bad teams, most recently an overtime win against NJIT. The Johnnies have not looked dominant recently, and need to make some drastic changes to their play to beat Kansas.
Can the Johnnies put together a complete performance and stun the visiting team from Kansas?
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (Big East, 5-1) vs Kansas Jayhawks (Big 12, 5-1)
When: Friday, December 3, 2021, 7 PM
Where: UBS Arena, Elmont, New York
Odds: Kansas, -7
History: Kansas leads the matchup 8-5 all time, with the most recent game being a 82-74 Kansas win on November 10, 2000.
Kansas is the toughest non-conference opponent the Johnnies will have to face all year, as the Jayhawks currently sit at 8th in the AP Poll and 5th in KenPom. They are very talented offensively, ranking 18th in the nation for points a game and 11th for offensive rating. Their best win on the season is Michigan State, although they do have a loss courtesy of the 5-3 Dayton Flyers.
Kansas, led by coach Bill Self, is not that big of a team. As Self has done in the past, the Jayhawks run four guards and one big in their starting lineup.
Their best player is 6-5 senior guard Ochai Agbaji, who is projected to go in the first round of the 2022 NBA Draft. In 6 games this season, he is averaging 23 points and 4 rebounds, while shooting 55% from the field and 42% from deep. While not a notably strong defensive player, he is very quick, can get to the rim— and finish loudly when he gets there. He rarely turns the ball over.
The next leading scorer for Kansas is 6-7 junior guard Christian Braun, who is averaging 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists so far this year. A Kansas native, Braun is quick and experienced and has pulled down a lot of rebounds this season from the wing spot on defense. He has good feet on defense and good length.
The Jayhawks starting big man is 6-10 265, lb forward David McCormack. McCormack is averaging 8 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks this season, and could be a difficult matchup for Joel Soriano. McCormack has quick post moves and great per-minute rebounding and steal numbers. He has been a little foul prone in his exuberance over his career.
Kansas rounds out their starting lineup with a couple small guards, Remy Martin and Dajuan Harris Jr. Martin is a 6-0 super-senior transfer from Arizona State who is averaging 12 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists this season, shooting well from the field and from deep, at 53% and 44%, respectively. St. John’s fans may remember the speedy Martin from the Hall of Fame Classic in Connecticut, when Arizona State handled St. John’s. Martin is 3-0 against the Red Storm, but only scored in double figures in that 2019 game.
Harris Jr. is 6-1 sophomore and is averaging 3 points and 4 rebounds. He logs minutes because he is a decent defender and passer, helping the Jayhawks to keep the ball moving.
Kansas has a deep bench, with seven guys getting some bench run for them this year. 6-8 sophomore forward Jalen Wilson is probably their biggest threat off the bench, as he was a starter last year but this year has come off the bench after being suspended for 3 games to a DUI. In 29 games last season, Wilson averaged 12 points and 8 rebounds.
Also in the backup frontcourt for the Jayhawks is 6-8 super-senior Mitch Lightfoot, 6-10 freshman Zach Clemence, and 6-7 freshman KJ Adams Jr. Lightfoot is averaging 5 points and 3 rebounds in 12 minutes this season; he is a very active big man. Zach Clemence has contributed 5 points per game in 6 minutes, and Adams Jr. has averaged 1 points and 6 minutes per game.
In the Kansas backup backcourt, there is 6-4 super-senior Jalen Coleman-Lands, 6-1 sophomore Joseph Yesufu, and 6-1 freshman Bobby Pettiford. Coleman-Lands played his first season of college basketball for Illinois, and has also played at DePaul and Iowa State before transferring to Kansas for this season, averaging 10 points in his 139 career games, making 2.1 threes a game at a 37% rate.
He may be the team’s most consistent shooter. Yesufu averages 4 points in 9 minutes per game, and likes to attack in transition. Pettiford also likes to attack, but takes fewer shots while on the floor; he averages 3 points in 12 minutes.
Keys to the Game
Don’t fall down early. This can’t be a game that St. John’s loses in the opening minutes of the game, as they have to be awake from the jump and establish the game as a competition, not a walkover.
Aggressive backcourt defense. The Johnnies need an aggressive backcourt defensive effort led by Posh Alexander to force turnovers and make the Kansas offense uncomfortable. Their quick ball movement makes their offense go; disrupting that movement makes the Jayhawks into individual shot-creators, which will slow them down.
Score points. The Red Storm need to put up a lot of points against a questionable Kansas defense that gave up 83 to Iona and 74 to Iona. The Jayhawks love to play fast — but can have lapses in concentration.
St. John’s fights hard but loses a close game 78-75.