Tomorrow, St. John’s will play their first Big East game of the season when the Butler Bulldogs travel to Carnesecca Arena. The Johnnies were originally scheduled to open conference play on the 20th against Seton Hall, but received a win for the game due to a Seton Hall COVID forfeit.
The Johnnies are coming off an rough offensive performance in their most recent loss against Pittsburgh, where they struggled to score points in the absence of Julian Champagnie, who was out due to COVID and will be out for this matchup against Butler.
The Bulldogs will be a tough matchup for St. John’s especially without their best player, as the Red Storm will need guys to step up offensively and put their non-conference struggles in the rearview. Rumor has it that St. John’s may be without two other players against Butler — forward Joel Soriano and guard Tareq Coburn — due to COVID protocols, per the NY Post.
Meanwhile, Butler could be missing three players — forward Bryce Nze (shoulder injury), high-volume guard Chuck Harris (non-COVID illness), and wing Bo Hodges. Guard Myles Tate has returned, however, and will add some scoring punch to the Butler attack.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (8-3, 1-0 Big East) vs Butler Bulldogs (7-4, 0-0 Big East)
When: Thursday, December 23, 2021, 6:30 PM
Where: Carnesecca Arena, Queens, New York
Odds: St. John’s -6
Last Matchup: On February 9, Butler took down St. John’s 76-73 in OT.
Butler is definitely a beatable conference opponent, coming into the game with a 7-4 record and a KenPom ranking of 104, while the Johnnies currently sit at 79. They have been one of the less successful Big East teams in non-conference, with losses against Michigan State, Houston, Texas A&M, and Purdue. Except for the A&M loss, the defeats were blowouts. With that said, those are four programs having strong years, so knowing where the Bulldogs actually fall on the spectrum of teams is still to be determined.
This Bulldogs squad is coached by Lavall Jordan, who is in his fifth season as head coach of the program. He coaches a squad that is almost identical to the one he coached last season, as they return 96.1% of last year’s minutes and 97.2% of last year’s scoring. They continue to methodically run their plays on offense and are gritty on defense.
Butler is a team that does not score a lot of points and does not concede a lot of points, averaging 63.4 points a game and giving up 60.0 points a game. Like Pittsburgh, the Bulldogs focus on defending well, slowing opponents down and rebounding on the offensive and defensive glass. Their tempo is one of the 10 slowest in the country, and they have successfully kept opponents from running in every single game.
They do not have a star player, with no one on their team posting an average of more than 12 points per game. They are also coming into the matchup missing some major players, as guard Bo Hodges has been out all season, starting forward Bryce Nze has been out for the past two weeks, and leading scorer Chuck Harris is questionable due to illness.
The Bulldogs are a team of role players, and have three guys that average double digits. The Bulldogs get their scoring from their guards, and take nearly half of their shots from beyond the arc. Chuck Harris, who I just mentioned as questionable, is a 6-2 sophomore guard who was on the All-Big East Freshman team last season and is averaging 11.6 points and 4.0 rebounds while only shooting 35.7% from the field.
6-3 grad guard Jair Bolden is in his second season with Butler after previously playing for George Washington and South Carolina, and is averaging 10.6 points a game, while making 2.5 threes a game at a 38.6% rate.
The last double digit scorer for the Bulldogs is 6-4 freshman guard Jayden Taylor, who has started all 11 games and averaged 10.3 points and 2.8 rebounds.
Besides the three players already mentioned, Butler has a couple other guys who contribute in the backcourt. Experienced 6-2 guard Aaron Thompson is in his fifth season with the Bulldogs and is averaging 6.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per contest. New 6-6 freshman guard/forward Simon Lukosius averages 4.0 points and 3.5 rebounds, and takes most of his shots from beyond the arc. He is a good defensive rebounder.
Butler does not have a particularly strong frontcourt; without Bryce Nze, Lavall Jordan gives quality minutes to a couple of forwards. 6-9 senior Bryce Golden is a fourth year player and third year starter for the Bulldogs, and this season is posting averages of 9.2 points and 4.1 rebounds a game. He is the Bulldogs’ best offensive rebounder.
The 6-8 grad transfer from Eastern Michigan Ty Groce is the other starting forward, who averages 7.5 points and 4.1 boards a game with the ability to stretch the floor a bit; he takes more than half of his shots from beyond the arc. Big man Myles Wilmoth is 6-9 and also takes half his shots from deep. He averages 3.0 points and 2.5 rebounds per game.
Keys to the Game
Control the pace. St. John’s showed against Pitt that they are not capable of winning low scoring win, so they need to control the tempo of the game and play fast against a team like Butler. Forcing turnovers and getting stops will help.
Find points from different guys. The Red Storm are a team that averages over 80 points a game, and will need to find baskets from different guys in the absence of their best player and leading scorer, along with their big center.
Score points in the paint. Butler does not have a lot of depth, so St. John’s should look to score inside with their guards and forwards.
Joel Soriano had one of his better games against Pitt with 10 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocks, and another good game for him could be a big part of a Johnnies win. The Red Storm need to find some points inside from Esahia Nyiwe and Aaron Wheeler.
St. John’s finds a way to start Big East play with a win and beats Butler 74-71.