Now that St. John’s has drawn a bit of attention, the road game at Providence brings in a little extra motivation: the Red Storm needs to show that the Villanova win was no fluke.
Winners of five straight, St. John’s look to be solid behind star guard Posh Alexander and forward Julian Champagnie. But the two players carry a huge load for the Red Storm. A defensively-focused and tall team like Providence, desperate to start a winning streak (they are 2-6 in this calendar year), could upend the streak the Red Storm is on.
Is St. John’s up for the challenge?
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (12-7, 6-6 Big East) vs. Providence Friars (9-9, 5-7 Big East)
When: Saturday, February 6, 2021, 2:00 PM
Where: Alumni Hall, Providence, RI
TV: FS1 | Fox Sports Online
Ed Cooley’s Providence Friars manage to be in the NCAA Tournament mix — and the middle of the Big East pack — each year by putting in effort, playing solid defense, slowing the pace and finding enough shots to go on a run in February.
Unlike recent teams, however, this Providence team does not seem to have found the winning formula quite yet. The pace is slow. They get back on defense and have defensive length. This squad, playing to their personnel, is less likely to turn over opponents than previous squads, but they do make taking three-pointers very difficult.
But in those long possessions, two things have been different: they are not great at keeping opponents from scoring inside the arc (and do not have a lot of shot blocking), and their rebounding on both ends is lackluster.
The results of this year may be luck-based; the Friars have played three overtime games (and four overtime finishes) and won all three. They have also lost three one-possession games and were stifled in their last contest against Seton Hall.
Expect to see a lot of screens in the paint and near/ under the basket to free players up on offense (the “flex”). Expect to see Providence get back on defense and use their length to extend that defense to slow down transition opportunities. In the halfcourt, they will rotate well and keep clear lanes into the paint hard to find, sometimes in a zone (they have played some 1-3-1 zone this year in games I have seen).
The team’s stars are David Duke (#3) at wing and Nate Watson (#0) in the paint. When given opportunities, Watson is a very good scorer. But in the last four games, the 6’10” senior center has not scored more than 12 points. Against St. John’s skinny front line, expect the Friars to try to get him back on track. Forward Ed Croswell (#21) will see a little time, but the LaSalle transfer is foul prone.
Duke, a 6’5” guard who may get some looks at the professional ranks, has become a solid passer along with being a guard who can shoot (42% from deep) and drive. He will fall back on jumpers off the dribble, and he has been fairly ineffective inside the arc — shooting 50% at the rim and 27% away from the rim (a combined 40%). He’s durable and can rebound.
With injuries to guard Jared Bynum and wing Jimmy Nichols, the Friars have looked to shooter AJ Reeves (#11) to do a bit more on the floor. It’s not quite the same; Nichols was a good defender, and the team has been 2-5 without starting point guard Bynum. When Reeves gets going, he can score 28 points, like he did against Georgetown two games ago; but in his last game he scored four points against Seton Hall. He is mostly a spot-up shooter.
Noah Horchler (#14), a transfer from North Florida, got the start in place of Nichols. He plays with good energy on the glass. The 6’8” wing can shoot open threes; at North Florida he scored on 61% of his shots inside the arc, but that percentage has cratered in his year in the Big East, where he shoots 37% inside the arc. Wing Greg Gantt (#1) is a reluctant shooter/ scorer at 6’8”, but has been a solid defender.
Freshman guard Alyn Breed (#10) is energetic and could be a problem at times if the game goes up and down — faster than how the Friars have played. Breed has deferred to others, but has potential to be a strong scorer. Brycen Goodine (#12) has seen a spike in minutes with the injuries, and had some good minutes — and connected on some threes — in the loss to Seton Hall.
Keys to the Game
Do not squander opportunity. That theme is large for the game, but also within the game. Providence is very good at 1) keeping teams from finding running lanes to the basket and 2) has been very good at keeping St. John’s from the basket in recent years. Chances for runouts may not happen often, and the Red Storm need to take fast break chances (or offensive rebounds) and convert.
Defend inside. While Providence’s guards love to shoot, the looming threat is Nate Watson against an undersized frontcourt for the Red Storm. This game may involve more Arnaldo Toro and Marcellus Earlington than the previous contest; though if Josh Roberts and Isaih Moore can hold their own, the team will be able to maintain their defensive abilities as well.
Hit shots. Providence will pack the paint at times. St. John’s needs to hit shots.
Providence will come out flying. But here is saying the game will be ugly and close, a 73-71 win for... Providence.