St. John’s returns homed after a game against Providence that had promising moments. But most of all, the game will be remembered for the many ways the Red Storm could have won it. A few defensive possessions here, a turnover there, some made free throws, and maybe the Red Storm would have left Providence with their second Big East win.
But while Mike Anderson’s teams have used defensive moments to generate offense, this year’s team struggles to get stops, to get in sync, and to find the winning formula.
Is this the night where it comes together, against a Butler team that has also struggled to find their way? Butler has won the games they expect to win, like over Georgetown and DePaul, and also have a win over a strong Kansas State team, along with Yale and BYU, solid teams.
Can St. John’s get right against Butler’s disciplined defense?
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (11-6, 1-5 Big East) vs Butler Bulldogs (10-7, 2-4 Big East)
When: Tuesday, January 19, 2023, 6:30 PM
Where: Carnesecca Arena, Queens, NY
Odds: St. John’s, -4.5
Butler, who brought in — or brought back — Thad Matta to improve a team that was firmly at the bottom of the Big East for a couple of years, has changed a little. But only a little.
The Bulldogs, compared to last year, are still fairly deliberate, but are willing to run a little. The defense has gotten better. The team looks prepared in most games to counter an opponents’ actions, and they are one of the best teams in the country at not fouling. Butler has even found an athletic big to alter and block some shots.
But on offense... Butler is not a great three-point shooting team, and does not get to the foul line. Still, they are good with the ball, and are willing and able to take two-point jump shots if they cannot get their three-point shooters free.
Manny Bates, a transfer from North Carolina State, is the team’s biggest threat at 6’11”. He’s an agile post player, can throw down a dunk and block shots, and is decent running in transition. His strength will be tested against Joel Soriano, and expect him to bring a good version of his game. He has gotten in foul trouble in a number of games this season; key for St. John’s will be to keep him off the floor for stretches.
The other bigs, Jalen Thomas (who has started the last four games) and Ali Ali, are less athletic and have struggled defensively. Thomas has good rebounding numbers and can block shots, but is not a deft scorer. Ali has potential range out to the three-point line.
Point guard Chuck Harris runs the show. A three-year starter, he does not compile great assist numbers but he is decently athletic. Jayden Taylor, an Indianapolis native, comes off the bench but can pour in points from the guard position. At 6’4”, he will get his shots off; he also gets to the line and forces steals. He has score in double figures in his last three games. Purdue transfer Eric Hunter, Jr. has been a strong defensive presence. He logs heavy minutes and is efficient on offense. Pierce Thomas is a 6’5” wing who gets minutes and also plays solid defense; he takes a backseat to others on the floor in terms of usage rate.
Wing Simas Lukousius has strong potential as a shooter, but has struggled recently; he scored one point against Seton Hall and was limited to 21 minutes.
Keys to the Game
Prevent runs. Butler is not good at scoring, but if given easy opportunities, they will certainly put up points. Against a disciplined defense, the Bulldogs have lacked answers. Can St. John’s show that kind of discipline?
David Jones. The Red Storm need a player to create and make shots. That should be David Jones, but he has struggled to be consistent. He scored three points in 13 minutes against Providence. How does Jones make an impact and create scoring opportunities?
Discipline. Fewer turnovers. Fewer bad plays. Better free throw shooting. Finding the three-point shooters. St. John’s needs to play a more composed game. Providence showed hints, but the Johnnies have to find that consistency.
St. John’s wins one, 78-73.