Will the good streak come to an end?
St. John’s travels to one of the 2021 venues for the NCAA Tournament (played entirely in Indiana for COVID protocols) to face the Butler Bulldogs. Butler may be 5-8 in the Big East, but they are 3-3 since facing St. John’s, with a win over Creighton (and two over DePaul).
With a new player in the fold and a young team that may be learning how to play together better, the Bulldogs stand to be a very tough out tonight for the Red Storm as Mike Anderson goes for his 400th career win.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (13-7, 7-6 Big East) vs. Butler Bulldogs (6-10, 5-8 Big East)
When: Tuesday, February 9, 2021, 9:00 PM
Where: Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN (at 25% capacity: 2,275)
TV: FS1 | Fox Sports Online
Recapping the first meeting against Butler
Guard Jair Bolden got going early, launching threes; but St. John’s got on top by halftime. The Johnnies fended off Butler with a bunch of turnovers, and struggled to close out the game as Butler’s defense was tough against the Johnnies.
Finding room to operate was at a premium, though Julian Champagnie had a strong game leading the Red Storm with 18 points. Vince Cole had a decent offensive first half, and Rasheem Dunn’s defense powered the team to a win.
The Red Storm had a hard time getting through Butler forwards Bryce Nze and Myles Wilmoth to get to the offensive glass.
Three up, St. John’s
Posh Alexander has scored in double digits in the past six games. Including and since the Butler game, his stat lines have been remarkably consistent — 4-6 three-point attempts, a higher percentage of twos taken, at least three steals per game except against Providence. He may take that personally; Alexander’s ability to rain chaos was missing at times against the cautions Friars, who moved the ball quickly.
Extra shots. Red Storm as a squad have been confident forcing turnovers and banging the offensive glass in the last seven games; the team topped 30% on grabbing their own misses in five of the seven games. It bears note that against Butler, eight games ago, St. John’s was held to a season-low percentage of getting to 11% of their misses. Isaih Moore was given a break from the team for that game, and has returned with a more focused attitude.
Isaih Moore. The lanky 6’10” forward Isaih Moore has been good in conference play — for a player who only makes 26% of his shots that are not right at the rim. He has blocked shots, rebounded on the offensive end, and has been a good offensive closer for the Red Storm.
Three down, St. John’s
Defensive rebounding. For stylistic and personnel reasons, St. john’s under Mike Anderson won’t be a particularly good defensive rebounding team. But giving up double digit offensive rebounds to the wrong team (that doesn’t also turn over the ball) will be the cause of a loss at some point this season.
Julian Champagnie’s game inside the arc. Champagnie has been excellent, doing what the team needs him to do, and stroking threes. That is excellent, because he has cracked 50% (the breakeven efficiency mark, give or take a few free throws) shooting on two-pointers exactly once since the Butler game. In particular, he has missed more shots
Limited opportunities at the line. This Red Storm team has talked about falling in love too much with the offensive end. But more specifically, this team has found a lot of success with jump shooting. When the shots aren’t falling, though, the drives have been leading to simple missed shots — with very few free throws drawn.
On Butler, watch for...
Defense. Butler is aggressive, hustles, and makes sure to get the defensive rebound. The defense has been the third-best in the Big East, despite their near-worst scoring in league play. They won’t turn the ball over, they will slow the game down, and their defense can get enough stops to make an improbable chance at victory appear.
Butler has added East Tennessee State transfer Bo Hodges. The high-usage 6’5” wing is a very good rebounder, and has double digit rebounds in two of his three games in a Butler uniform since becoming eligible. He can guard the perimeter but has been a big threat inside; he can slash to the basket. His three-point shooting has never been great, and he is only shooting 39% inside the arc. Still, his energy and hustle could be a problem.
Chuck. Chuck Harris, a freshman guard, scored 22 in the win over DePaul and 16 in the three-point loss to Marquette. He is shooting 44% beyond the arc on the season.
Keys to the Game
Just a little patience. As sung by Indiana native W. Axl Rose, St. John’s is gonna need just a little patience against the deliberate and well-schemed Butler Bulldogs. Smart play, not trying to make something out of nothing, and composed ball movement and shooting will help.
Controlling the glass is everybody’s job. With the addition of a guard who rebounds on Butler in the form of Bo Hodges, the Bulldogs are going to look to once again keep St. John’s far off the glass.
Defend the three. Chuck Harris, Jair Bolden and others will look to take advantage of gaps in St. John’s to put up threes to stay close — or build a lead. Running the Bulldogs off the line and disrupting their passing will be key.
St. John’s is learning how to grind out games, and pull off the win, 72-66.