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What to know: St. John’s men’s basketball vs. Sacred Heart preview, keys, and odds

St. John’s returns to campus for a tune-up game against an NEC opponent

The St. John’s Red Storm bench celebrates in the second half against the Holy Cross Crusaders at Carnesecca Arena. Wendell Cruz/USA TODAY Sports

After a gritty road win over West Virginia as part of the Big East/Big 12 Battle, the St. John’s men’s basketball team returns to campus ahead of finals week for a tune-up contest against the Northeast Conference’s Sacred Heart Pioneers.

The Johnnies were carried by Joel Soriano in a 79-73 win over the Mountaineers on Friday night. The big man racked up a career high 24 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks, and one chipped tooth in the game.

Game Information

Who: St. John’s Red Storm vs. Sacred Heart Pioneers (4-5)

When: Wednesday, December 6, 2023, 7:00 p.m.

Where: Carnesecca Arena, Jamaica, NY

TV: CBS Sports Network

Odds: St. John’s (-19.5), O/U at 158.5

Scouting the Pioneers

Sacred Heart are still seeking their first NCAA Division-I tournament bid in program history and this season may be one of their best chances to break the drought, as they were picked first in the NEC preseason poll and their KenPom rank of 280 is second among NEC teams.

The Pios are led by 6-foot-6 senior Nico Galette, who may be the only preseason player of the year for a conference to come off the bench in the country. He’s only started one out of nine possible games as he’s still recovering from an injury. The Rahway, New Jersey native is averaging 15.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game on 45 percent shooting and 35 percent from three.

As you would expect from a NEC team, Sacred Heart’s statistical profile is generally deficient, but certain numbers do stick out. Granted they have only played one top-150 KenPom team this season, they are currently top 25 in the country in both block percentage (14.7) and steal percentage (13.2), with much of the credit belonging to the aforementioned Galette (2.3 steals and 0.6 blocks per game). Senior big man Alex Sobel has also racked up the rejections, averaging 2.6 blocks per game, which is 13th best in the country.

Keys to the game

Something to smile about - Joel Soriano might be missing a tooth, but his play has been something St. John’s fans can smile about. According to KenPom, Soriano has the 12th best offensive rating (143.8) and 9th best effective field goal percentage (72.8) in the country. There should not be any offensive adversity for St. John’s tonight, but in the unlikely event that they get into a struggle, they know exactly who should get the ball.

Limit turnovers - The only feasible way Sacred Heart could make this game interesting is if they force giveaways. St. John’s has been more secure with the ball by only giving up a combined 14 turnovers their last two games, so can they keep it up against a quietly pesky team?

A shoulder to Alleyne on - During the Charleston Classic, Nahiem Alleyne met with Rick Pitino and apologized to him for not performing up to standards. Since that meeting, Alleyne has made the most of his minutes off the bench, averaging 10.3 points per game on 54 percent from the field and 41 percent from three. The former national champion has proven that he deserves more minutes and he could continue to build a case with a strong performance tonight.

Prediction

As nasty as St. John’s played for the better part of their win versus West Virginia, you can’t deny that they improved as the game progressed. The Red Storm should carry momentum from their performance in the clutch into tonight’s game and should have no problems dispatching Sacred Heart. St. John’s wins 84-62.