After playing three games in four days at the Charleston Classic, then enjoying a brief holiday break, St. John’s men’s basketball is back for their first home game in 12 days as they face the Patriot League’s Holy Cross Crusaders. Saturday night’s contest will be the Red Storm’s second of five games to played on campus at Carnesecca Arena this season.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm vs. Holy Cross Crusaders (2-4)
When: Saturday, November 25, 2023, 7:00 p.m.
Where: Carnsecca Arena, Jamaica, NY
Opening Odds: St. John’s (-22), O/U at 153.5
Scouting the Crusaders
Of all opponents on the Red Storm’s schedule this season, the Crusaders are easily the weakest. They’re currently ranked 332nd in KenPom and are scuffling through a transition season with first-year head coach Dave Paulsen. After head coaching stints at Bucknell and George Mason, Paulsen is seeking to rebuild a rudderless Crusaders program that hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2016.
While many metrics project Holy Cross as one of the worst teams in the country, they have already collected their best win in over a decade earlier this season. On November 11, they knocked off Georgetown, 68-67, in our nation’s capitol. It was their first win over a power-conference opponent since they decimated Boston College in a 86-64 rout back in 2012.
Senior guard Joe Octave was the maestro behind that upset, recording a career-high 33 points and 11 rebounds, plus drilling the go-ahead three in the final minute of play. Octave is playing at a higher tune this season, averaging a team-high 16.3 points and shooting 40 percent from three.
Behind him are a quartet of guards in the starting lineup, as Bo Montgomery (6-foot-5), Caleb Kenney (6-foot-6), Will Batchelder (6-foot-1), and Joe Nugent (6-foot-6) back him up in one of the smallest lineups in the country.
Predictably for a Patriot League team, they carry as much resistance on defense as a set of parlor doors. They allow teams to shoot 50.7 percent from inside-the-arc and a wicked 41.4 percent from three. Somehow, they managed to out-rebound Georgetown by ten and hold them to 36 percent shooting from the field in their upset win. Of course, that’s a scathing indictment on the Hoyas, but it shows that Holy Cross has the ability to keep pace with a power-conference foe, especially if Joe Octave gets into rhythm.
Keys to the Game
Brother Luis - A broken hand has kept R.J. Luis on the sidelines for the first five games of the season, but all systems are a go for the sophomore to make his Red Storm debut on Saturday night. It’s possible that Rick Pitino will keep him on a minutes restriction, but Holy Cross’s sieve-like defense provides Luis a golden opportunity to build confidence and chemistry with his teammates. Pitino has lauded Luis’s potential in the offseason, and his rim-slashing ability should alleviate the Red Storm’s early season struggles in attacking the basket.
Give ‘em Hell, Joel - The arithmetic is simple. Joel Soriano is 6-foot-11 and the tallest player in Holy Cross’s starting lineup is 6-foot-6. As a Patriot League team, they do not have the defensive talent or athleticism to reasonably overwhelm Joel Soriano. Give the big man ball and let him feast more than he probably did on Thursday.
Silence Octave - If there is one Holy Cross player who gives this Crusaders team a puncher’s chance, it’s Joe Octave. The Georgetown game should serve as a cautionary tale as what could happen if you allow Octave to get comfortable with the ball in his hands.
There are multiple yellow flags that signal a potential letdown spot for St. John’s. They are playing their first game in six days against an unsuspicious low-major team inside Carnesecca Arena during Thanksgiving weekend, while they are set to play a much more important game against West Virginia next week.
St. John’s needs to set the tone early against Holy Cross and avoid a lethargic struggle against a team they should blow out. With the preseason exhibition loss to Division-II Pace in mind, I expect Rick Pitino to have this team focused on taking care of business and turning this game into nothing more than a typical buy-game blowout. St. John’s wins by 28.