Tomorrow, St, John’s will continue Big East play with a road game against the Creighton Bluejays. The Johnnies are coming off a convincing win against Georgetown at the Garden, and have an opportunity for a solid Quad One win against a good Bluejays squad.
The Johnnies registered an impressive defensive performance against Georgetown, forcing the Hoyas to shoot below 40% from the field and turn the ball over 20 times. They also looked very solid offensively, scoring 88 points on 51.7% from the field, as Champagnie led the way with 25 and Posh Alexander and Dylan Addae-Wusu each contributed 17.
Creighton is currently tied with St. John’s in the Big East as they also have a 2-2 conference record, but are much better than their conference record shows. The Bluejays have played Villanova twice (winning one, losing one), lost a close game to a ranked Xavier team, and won in double overtime to a Marquette team that has been strong.
This game is a really good opportunity for the Johnnies to get their best win of the season, but that will be no easy task against the Bluejays.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (10-5, 2-2 Big East) vs Creighton Bluejays (10-5, 2-2 Big East)
When: Wednesday, January 19, 2021, 7:00 PM
Where: CHI Health Center, Omaha, Nebraska
Odds: Creighton -5.5
The Bluejays, coached by Greg McDermott in his 12th season with the program, are not quite at the level of their veteran teams offensively or defensively. The style is still the same, though — strong offensive spacing, cuts into the paint, solid but low-pressure defense, quick ball movement if they get into rhythm.
Creighton is a solid all around team, coming into the game with a KenPom ranking of 55 and a NET ranking of 56. They don’t shoot a lot of threes — and they are shooting 31% from deep on the season — but are a very efficient scoring team, hitting 57% of their shots inside the arc, good for 13th in the nation against Division I teams, per KenPom.
Greg McDermott has started the same five players in all 15 of their games, and those five are the five players with the most minutes logged for Creighton. Only three players have gotten consistent minutes off the bench this season, and only one of them played more than 10 minutes in their last game. They are mostly new, with three freshmen playing significant and crucial minutes.
The Bluejays come into the matchup with a record of 10-5 with their best wins coming against BYU and Villanova, who were ranked #24 and #9 at the times they matchup with Creighton, respectively. Their last two games have both been Big East losses, but have been to Xavier and Villanova, who were both ranked and the home team.
In terms of players, Creighton’s leading scorer is 6-7 senior forward Ryan Hawkins, who is in his first season with Creighton after playing four years of D-II basketball with Northwest Missouri State. His game has translated well at the Division I level, as he is averaging 13.4 points and 7.7 rebounds, while hitting 2.3 threes a game at a rate of 37.6%.
Hawkins is joined in Creighton’s starting frontcourt by another 6-7 forward, freshman Arthur Kaluma, and by 7-1 sophomore center Ryan Kalkbrenner. Kaluma comes into the matchup averaging 8.1 points and 4.6 rebounds, and, though quick and athletic, is probably Creighton’s least productive starter.
Kalkbrenner has been very solid this season, averaging 12.0 points on 69.4% from the field, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks. Creighton is very good with him on the floor, as he has on offensive rating of 131.2 and a defensive rating of 94.5. The team runs a lot of their offense through him, trying to find him on pick and rolls, and defensively, he walls off the paint.
For Creighton’s starting backcourt, their point guard is dynamic 6-0 freshman Ryan Nembhard, who averages 12.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.5 steals. He may be this year’s Freshman of the Year, and has not looked overwhelmed by Big East play. Nembhard, the younger brother of Gonzaga star Andrew, will look to push the pace and find other players for threes or at the rim.
Their shooting guard, 6-6 senior Alex O’Connell, is their most experienced starter, in his second season with the Bluejays after three seasons at Duke. He didn’t have a big role with either team until this season, where he is averaging 12.5 points and 5.3 rebounds, while shooting 1.9 threes a game at a 35.4% rate. He does have the ability to get to the rim and dunk, and is a very good shooter for this Bluejay team.
Off Creighton’s bench, their biggest contributor is 6-4 freshman Trey Alexander, who plays 22.1 minutes a game and averages 4.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.5 assists. The only other player that has played in every game this season is 6-9 senior forward KeyShawn Feazell, who averages 3.7 points and 3.4 rebounds in 12.6 bench minutes. The transfer from McNeese State (who also played at Mississippi State) is a wider big than Kalkbrenner, but less skilled.
Another player who could see some action off the bench is freshman guard Rati Andronikashvili, who has seen action in 13 of Creighton’s 15 games. Andronikashvili, native of the country of Georgia, is a good passer with solid vision. He has not scored in double digits this season.
Keys to the Game
40 minutes of hell. Mike Anderson’s 40 minutes of hell philosophy was certainly on display for the Johnnies against Georgetown, as they played relentless defense, forcing turnovers and bad shots. Another defensive effort like this would be huge in helping St. John’s take down the Red Storm.
Control the tempo. Similar to the last key to victory, the Red Storm need to dictate the pace of the game, and play fast and chaotic against a team who does not have a lot of depth. The Johnnies could use another great game from Posh Alexander, who finished with 17 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, and 6 steals against the Hoyas.
Don’t give up the paint. Creighton has a solid frontcourt and a big who prevents inside shots, so the Johnnies need to work to not give up the inside with big games out of the Red Storm frontcourt players.
St. John’s clicks for the second straight game and wins 79-75.