There is only one team in the Big East that St. John’s has not faced this seaosn — the Xavier Musketeers. Dancing along the edge of the top 25 (but unranked this week despite a home win over UConn last Friday), the resurgent squad from Cincinnati welcomes the Johnnies to their loud Cintas Center for a Wednesday evening matchup.
On the downside, St. John’s has won only once at the Cintas Center, back in 2015; and they have lost by six or more pointes each time. On the upside, Mike Anderson’s style earned a win against the Musketeers in a high-scoring affair.
St. John’s will be facing a tougher, taller, and more confidence Xavier team this time around, and will also be hoping to have starting guard Posh Alexander back.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (13-11, 5-8 Big East) vs Xavier Musketeers (17-7, 7-6 Big East)
When: Wednesday, February 16, 2022, 6:30 PM
Where: Cintas Center, Cincinnati, OH
TV: CBS Sports Network
Odds: Xavier, -7.5
Last matchup: St. John’s gave Mike Anderson his 400th win and Posh Alexander flirted with a triple-double, as the Red Storm won, 93-84 at Carnesecca Arena.
Xavier has found their strength in their defense this season, after lackluster efforts last year. Added size and experience help, and the Musketeers are very good at stopping transition attacks, backing each other up, and work to keep driving guards from getting to the basket easily. They slow down opposing offenses, but will give up some threes. With their size (19th in the country on a minutes-weighted basis), the Musketeers are strong on the defensive glass, and have been solid in not committing fouls (to players not named Al Durham from Providence).
On offense, Xavier shares the ball well, is willing to run when given opportunity, and are physical enough to draw fouls.
The attack is led by longtime guard Paul Scruggs (#1), who continues to be a solid driving guard with strong shoulders and solid passing skills. His turnover rate is a bit higher this year, and he has committed four or more turnovers in his last three games — often trying to overpenetrate.
Scruggs is backed up by guard Dwon Odom (#11), who is an even more extreme drive-and-pass guard; neither shoots a lot from deep. Odom has a strong jumper inside the arc, however, and can get to the rim. Defensively, he is also tough, forcing steals and putting pressure on ballhandlers even as the rest of the team gets into position.
Nate Johnson (#10) is a 6’4” starting guard who mostly shoots threes, and is athletic enough to dunk. Coming off the bench is Adam Kunkel (#5), a 6’4” guard who mostly shoots threes — but is a better playmaker and better defender. Kunkel missed last week’s game against Connecticut but should be ready to go tonight.
Colby Jones (#3) is a 6’6” wing who makes plays on both ends. Think of him as a strong glue guy who doesn’t shoot well from distance, but is likely to get to the line on a broken play or steal the ball. His defense is very good.
Up front, Zach Freemantle (#32) — the forward from Teaneck — has struggled with his shot, and at times looks a little tentative. He is still a strong inside-outside talent and a good athlete, even if he has not had his scoring outbursts like last year.
Iowa transfer Jack Nunge (#24) is a 7’0” player who understands that he is a 7’0” player. He has been a monster offensively, aggressive at getting to the rim, and his teammates will look for him to go over the top of opponents and throw it down. He is also hitting 36% of his threes. He’s not the quickest and he’s not one to pass, but he does good things when the basketball touches his hands. Backing him up is Indiana transfer Jerome Hunter (#21), who gives spot minutes (after starting for much of the season, until mid-January) and helps on the glass.
Keys to the Game
Impose chaos. St. John’s has struggled to play their game and impose chaos on opponents. The Johnnies have had elements of their style — Montez Mathis’ driving here, Julian Champagnie’s aggressiveness there, Dylan Addae-Wusu’s playmaking there — but struggle to get all the elements going in the same game. The team continues to work to find that cohesion; if they do, the Red Storm are tough to play against.
Shoot well enough. The shooting skill from early in the season has gone. The Red Storm have had some horrendous shooting nights from beyond the arc (and compounded that by shooting poorly at the line). In a game where transition baskets may be hard to come by, the Red Storm need shots to fall.
Better play inside. Also better play outside. And in the middle. But Joel Soriano has had back-to-back two point outings. His defense has been strong and he has been active, but the Red Storm could use an interior threat to make the Musketeer defense adjust — and maybe kickstart some outside shooting.
Xavier 83, St. John’s 67