St. John’s faces their first big test of the Rick Pitino era when the Michigan Wolverines come to Madison Square Garden as part of the final set of Gavitt Games for the foreseeable future. According to Jon Rothstein, the series will not continue in the 2024-25 season because the Big Ten expressed concern about their future scheduling flexibility with the addition of four members of the current Pac-12 conference.
The Red Storm are back in action after a six-day hiatus after beating Stony Brook, 90-74, this past Tuesday. Four Johnnies scored in double-figures, with Joel Soriano and Chris Ledlum both recording double-doubles.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm vs. Michigan Wolverines (2-0)
When: Monday, November 13, 2023, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Odds: St. John’s (-1.5), O/U at 154.5
Last meeting: December 3rd, 2000, when St. John’s defeated Michigan, 97-83, in the BB&T Classic consolation game in Washington, D.C.
Scouting the Wolverines
We went more in-depth of Michigan in our offseason preview of the Maize and Blue, so this section will serve as a glance at the Wolverines.
Out of all of the teams to play multiple buy-games in the opening week, few looked as impressive as Michigan when it came to taking care of business against weaker opponents. They hung at least 90 points on both UNC Asheville and Youngstown State, the former being an NCAA tournament team last season. It’s a very small sample size, but they are currently ninth in the country in effective FG percentage (62.8), 15th in the country in two-point percentage (64.2), and 25th in the country in two-point percentage defense (38.7).
The standout performer from opening week has been Olivier Nkamhoua. The Tennessee transfer scored 25 points in the drubbing over UNC Asheville, then recorded a double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds) against Youngstown State.
Dug McDaniel, the presumptive lead guard entering the season, has performed exactly as advertised after averaging 19 points across two contests on 53 percent shooting.
It is worth noting that head coach Juwan Howard underwent a heart procedure in September, which has kept him off the sidelines to begin the season. Legendary Saint Joseph’s head coach and current assistant Phil Martelli has assumed head coaching duties in Howard’s absence.
Keys to the Game
Stop Olivier Nkamhoua - The two-way threat has been a matchup nightmare to start the season and he could pose more problems if the Red Storm can’t find a way to limit his impact. A lot of responsibility falls on Chris Ledlum to counter Nkamhoua, and Joel Soriano will also have to step up as a help defender.
The 6-foot-9 forward has started in the frontcourt with Tarris Reed (6-foot-10) and Terrance Williams (6-foot-7), so it’s possible Rick Pitino tries to counter this length by starting Glenn Taylor Jr. next to Ledlum and Soriano.
Daniss vs. Dug - It’s possible that the point guard matchup will steal the show tonight. Both guards have shown a willingness to damn the torpedoes and shoot at will. If the game comes down to the wire, expect both of these guards to get the green light in the final minutes.
Roll with the punches - It’s cliche, but this is the first real test of the season for the Red Storm. This unit had a taste of adversity when they battled in a double-OT scrimmage against Rutgers, and they felt what it was like to let a 20-point lead slip from their grasp. This Michigan squad is a more dynamic offensive squad than that Scarlet Knights team. If St. John’s allows a big run to Michigan, how will they respond?
Eliminate second chance looks - The Red Storm struggled on the defensive glass against Stony Brook, allowing 13 second chance points off 16 offensive rebounds. This Michigan team is in a whole different weight class, figuratively and literally, to the Seawolves. The Red Storm frontcourt will need to embrace the physicality of this game and be willing to get bruises in the post.
Despite what both teams have shown in the opening week, this will not be a pretty offensive game in the first high-major test for both Michigan and St. John’s. Both squads will trade runs and I wouldn’t expect few, if any, efficient shooting nights out of anyone due to the physicality and defensive prowess of both sides. Ultimately, St. John’s should narrowly close it out, winning 71-68.