Who: St. John’s Red Storm vs. North Texas Mean Green (2-0)
When: Thursday, November 16, 2023, 1:30 p.m.
Where: TD Arena, Charleston, South Carolina
TV: ESPNU/ESPN App
Odds: St. John’s (-3.5), O/U at 138.5
After taking a 89-73 clotheslining against Michigan on Monday night, St. John’s barely had any time to dust themselves off as they head down south to begin play in the eight-team Charleston Classic tournament on Thursday afternoon. In the first round, they will take on the American’s North Texas Mean Green inside TD Arena in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. They will face either Dayton or LSU early Friday afternoon, dependent on whether they land on the winner’s or loser’s side of the bracket.
Scouting the Mean Green
Led by first-year head coach Ross Hodge, the reigning NIT champions have enjoyed a perfect 2-0 start to the season. They opened the season with a thrilling OT win over Northern Iowa, then cruised to a 11-point win over Nebraska-Omaha this past Saturday.
The Mean Green play in the same way people from the Lowcountry prefer to cook their grits: low and slow. Under Grant McCasland, they have been the slowest team in KenPom tempo in each of the last two seasons. With McCasland now coaching at Texas Tech, his former assistant Ross Hodge has maintained this tortoise-like pace in his first two games. Currently, North Texas is the third-slowest team in the country (62.9 possessions per 40 minutes). That creeping tempo allows them to keep games within one or two possessions, and they have the clutch shooters available to push them ahead in close contests.
With the departure of scoring extraordinaire Tylor Perry in the offseason, the Mean Green were left with a major question mark on who their new lead scoring option would be. Returning junior guard Aaron Scott appears to be the answer, as he’s blazed the perimeter to start the season. He is averaging 22.0 points per game, shooting 15-for-24 (62.5%) from the field and 7-for-11 (63.6%) from three.
6’7 Aaron Scott went off in UNT’s OT win today:— Pistons Draft Talk (@PDTScouting) November 8, 2023
26 pts (8/15, 4/7 from 3, 6/6 FT), 7 reb, 1 ast, 1 stl, 3 blk
made winning plays on offense and defense and continues to expand upon his game. pic.twitter.com/LIjxmkcMmT
The Mean Green may have one of the deepest backcourts in mid-major basketball. Oklahoma transfer C.J. Noland (14.5 ppg) and returning senior Rubin Jones (12.0 ppg) have both been effective secondary options early on. John Buggs (5.0 ppg) has been relatively quiet, but he has shown he can be a three-point threat after shooting 39.6 percent from deep at UTSA last year. Off the bench, junior college standout Jason Edwards (12.0 ppg) packs a scoring punch.
On the other hand, they are extremely shallow in the front-court, as there are only two true big men in the current rotation. Only 6-foot-9 Moulaye Sissoko (5.0 ppg) and 6-foot-8 Robert Allen (5.5 ppg) have received important minutes, with the only other options of Chrisdon Morgan and Terrance Dixon Jr. combining for a total of 21 minutes at the Division-I level.
Keys to the Game
Rotate, rotate, rotate - St. John’s could not stay in front of a traffic cone on Monday night and a lot of their defensive breakdowns can be attributed to broken rotations. They would often send two or three players to pressure, and the others failed to pick up an assignment. Obviously, they have the benefit of not facing a player as dynamic as Dug McDaniel, but there needs to be more synergy and alertness out of possession for the Johnnies.
Play through Soriano - We’re paraphrasing his postgame comments, but Rick Pitino said Monday night’s offensive performance shocked the sugar, honey, iced tea out of him. The Johnnies took ill-advised shots, missed too many layups, and abandoned any semblance of ball movement. There was one player who did step up with the ball in his hands and that was Joel Soriano. Against a smaller North Texas team, the Red Storm should make it a priority to give him the rock, force the Mean Green to stop him, and potentially get the bigs into foul trouble.
Get defensive boards... Please? - This should not be a tall task against a diminutive and perimeter-centric North Texas team. The Red Storm have been astonishingly great on the offensive glass (first in the country in offensive rebound percentage!), but they have also been abysmal at limiting second-chance opportunities in their first two games. I don’t believe their wicked rate of hoovering up offensive rebounds is sustainable, but neither should their uncleanliness on the defensive glass when you have Chris Ledlum and Joel Soriano.
Look, it’s only the third game of the season and we aren’t even at Thanksgiving yet, but the Red Storm’s lack of preparedness on Monday night raised a lot of concerns and they need a convincing win to regain some of the trust that this can be an NCAA tournament team.
Facing this gritty and slow-churning North Texas team is not a good matchup if you want to make an explosive statement, and this will be a very close contest at game’s end. It would not surprise me if North Texas jumped out to a double-digit lead in the early stages and spiked the collective blood pressure of every St. John’s fan on Twitter, but I do believe that this will be a one-possession game once the games hits the second half under 4-minute media timeout. The physicality of Ledlum and Soriano should be the difference and allow St. John’s to eke out a 62-59 win and advance to the winner’s bracket.