St. John’s, currently at the top of the Big East as the only undefeated team in the conference (because they have only played one game, and it was a win), travels to ranked Providence to take on a resurgent Friars squad.
The Friars, with wins over Wisconsin, Texas Tech, Northwestern, Connecticut and Seton Hall, are coming off of a blowout loss to Marquette — with guard AJ Reeves sidelined with a finger injury.
Expect the Friars to want to put on a good show against the Johnnies and execute better than in that loss.
St. John’s is coming off of a win over DePaul where they seemed to have control early but had to battle back from a deficit in the middle of the second half, behind Julian Champagnie’s career night. Still, the Red Storm struggled from the line, and defensively left a number of opportunities for the Blue Demons during the game.
Can the Johnnies shore up their defensive deficiencies and frustrate the Friars?
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (9-3, 1-0 Big East) vs #16 Providence (13-2, 3-1 Big East)
When: Saturday, January 8, 2022, 12 PM
Where: Dunkin Donuts Center, Providence, RI
Odds: Providence, -4.5
History: St. John’s is 4-6 against Providence in their last 10 games, but the Red Storm have topped the Friars in three straight — all high-scoring games where the Johnnies scored at least 80 points and won by double digits. In March, St. John’s won 81-67.
Ed Cooley revamped his Friars through the transfer portal, adding Justin Minaya (from South Carolina) and Al Durham (from Indiana) to the roster. Those additions, along with returning players like Nate Watson (Providence’s all-time leader in games played), AJ Reeves, Jared Bynum and Noah Horchler, give the Friars the ninth-oldest lineup (weighted by minutes played) in the country.
The Friars are tall, deliberate, and love to get into the paint. Their offense is deliberate, and focuses on getting into the the paint and getting to the line. On defense, they get back and defend without gambling for steals.
Guard Al Durham has taken on a leadership role for the Friars, taking tough shots, especially late in games. He has not been a strong shooter this year, hitting 43% of his twos and 25% of his threes, and his turnover rate (2.7 per game) has been a tough high, but he has been excellent at getting to the line for the Friars. He is hitting 81% at the line.
Nate Watson has gone to work against St. John’s in the paint for years, and will be a load for Joel Soriano and Esahia Nyiwe inside. He had a career-high 30 points in a loss to the Red Storm last February, and is a large presence inside.
This season, however, Noah Horchler is the team’s leading rebounder. He has been effective on the offensive glass and excellent on the defensive glass, while providing the ability to score off the dribble and hit stand-still three-pointers. He and Watson are both active on the offensive glass and block shots. Ed Crosswell backs them up, and has been hard to keep away from rebounds on both ends of the court.
Durham, Horchler and Watson have started every game for the Friars this season.
AJ Reeves has been a solid scoring guard, but missed the previous game with a finger injury; he is listed day-to-day. Reeves, a tall wing, provides shooting from outside the arc, and has been very good in the corner with his feet set. He’s been a big part of keeping the often-deliberate Friar offense on track by protecting the ball and hitting threes.
In his absence, the Friars started point guard Jared Bynum, who brings a different look. Bynum can shoot, but is more of a slasher and passer who can step up the Providence pace. Bynum and backup guard Alyn Breed can put some pressure on the ball and force steals. Breed has seen limited minutes in recent games, but played about half of the Marquette game.
WIng Justin Minaya — son of Omar Minaya, for the Mets fans out there — is a solid defensive wing who can make shots if left open. Guard Brycen Goodine has seen spotty minutes but has been effective on defense.
Keys to the Game
Make the game fast. Providence may be solid playing with pace, but they prefer slower, lower-scoring games. This season, St. John’s has not thrived in lower-scoring grinder games; so they will want to force steals and quick shots and get opportunities in transition.
Contain the forwards. Easier said, of course, but if St. John’s can make entry passes hard and keep Watson and Horchler from good deep position in the paint, they will stifle the Friar offense.
Minimize mistakes. St. John’s is still learning how to play with each other and communicate on defense, how to be aggressive without turning the ball over, and how to determine the best shot. The Red Storm cannot afford the kind of miscues, errant fouls, or wide-open driving lanes that happened against DePaul.
St. John’s faces a very motivated Providence side and loses, 82-74.