The CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska, has been a house of horrors for St. John’s ever since Creighton joined the Big East in the 2013-14 season. The Red Storm are 1-9 on road trips to Creighton in that span, with the only win coming in the 2018-19 season. St. John’s were not only defeated in these losses, they have been pulverized. The average margin of defeat in those nine games is 16.5 points.
In a season about killing the stale and tired storylines about the St. John’s men’s basketball program, they can reset the narrative against Creighton with a road win over the ranked Bluejays on Saturday afternoon.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm vs. No. 22 Creighton Bluejays (12-4)
When: Saturday, January 13, 2024, 1:00 p.m.
Where: CHI Health Center, Omaha, Nebraska
Opening Odds: Creighton (-7.5), O/U at 150.5
Series History: Creighton leads, 17-10. St. John’s has lost the last six meetings.
St. John’s is 12-4 overall and has started 4-1 in Big East play for the first time since the 2000-2001 season. St. John’s is currently rated 35th in KenPom and 34th in NET rankings; both are fifth-highest among Big East teams. Their records by NET quadrants are as follows, with opponents defeated in bold:
- 2-2 in Quad 1 games (Utah, Dayton, @ UConn, @ Villanova)
- 4-1 in Quad 2 games (North Texas, Boston College, Xavier, Butler, Providence)
- 2-1 in Quad 3 games (Michigan, @ West Virginia, Hofstra)
- 4-0 in Quad 4 games (Stony Brook, Holy Cross, Sacred Heart, Fordham)
Note that Dayton, Utah, North Texas, and Boston College are designated as neutral site games
Facing Creighton (NET #15) on the road gives St. John’s an opportunity to have their third Quad 1 victory of this season. St. John’s only totaled three Quad 1 wins over the previous two seasons.
St. John’s is seeded in 58 different bracketology selections with an average seed of 8.62, according to Bracket Matrix. In his latest update, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has moved St. John’s up to an 8-seed.
According to Zach Braziller, Brady Dunlap is questionable to play on Saturday. Dunlap hurt his left ankle late in Wednesday night’s game against Providence but returned to action in the final minute. It appears St. John’s is operating with a sense of caution, even after Rick Pitino said that Dunlap was “okay” in the postgame press conference.
Scouting the Bluejays
The Bluejays’ program slogan is “Let it fly”. Creighton has built its identity around three-point scorers, from Kyle Korver to Doug McDermott to Marcus Zegarowski. This year’s team upholds that tradition, firing 36.9% from three with a 49.0% three-point attempt rate.
Junior guard Trey Alexander is a great ball-handling combo guard who can do a little bit of everything, averaging 16.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game. He was an uncharacteristically cold 29.1% from three in non-conference games, but he has caught fire by shooting 38.1% in five Big East games.
Baylor Scheierman leads the Jays in scoring with 18.1 points per game and shoots 37.8% from three on 8.4 attempts per game. He slots as a secondary playmaker beside Alexander and dishes 4.1 assists per game.
Of course, the most important player on this team is center Ryan Kalkbrenner, who is averaging 15.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game. He does the dirty work for this Bluejays team, shoots a ridiculously efficient 72.7% from two, and forms one of the deadliest pick-and-roll combos in the country with Trey Alexander. Greg McDermott loves to run Spain pick-and-roll sets, which involve a third player setting a pick for Kalkbrenner as he rolls to the rim. That creates plays like this one against Alabama:
Kalkbrenner’s contributions around the rim helped Creighton to the third-best two-point shooting percentage in the country (62.2%) and the 27th-best two-point rate allowed in the country (44.6%).
A credit to Greg McDermott is how disciplined Creighton has been this season. Their 10.9 personal fouls per game are the fewest in the country, and their assist-to-turnover ratio of 16.9 to 11.3 is 27th best in the country.
Creighton isn’t a team that will generate extra scoring chances from turnovers or foul shooting. They only force 7.8 turnovers per game, the fewest in the country, and their 14.9 free throw attempts per game rank bottom 30 in the country.
Keys to the game
Defend the pick and roll - Kalkbrenner and Alexander will run the pick-and-roll until the cows come home. Joel Soriano will have to play drop coverage effectively, while the rest of the Red Storm defense needs to rotate quickly in order to prevent Alexander and Creighton’s other quick-trigger shooters from taking good shots.
Get Kalkbrenner out of the paint - Daniss Jenkins and Jordan Dingle love to drive to the basket, but they will be greeted by a 7-foot-1 giant around the basket on Saturday afternoon. St. John’s cannot bum-rush the paint; they need to be creative to create openings inside.
Take smart shots and take care of the ball - Turnovers and poor shot selection by St. John’s allowed Providence to overcome one double-digit deficit and almost come back from a second. Creighton may not force many turnovers, but they play comfortably in high-scoring shootouts. The Red Storm cannot allow Creighton to have extra possessions.
In years past, Creighton outsmarted and outplayed St. John’s at home in almost comical fashion. St. John’s now has the talent and coaching acumen to knock off Creighton but look around the college basketball world this week, and you will see how difficult it is to win on the road, especially in Omaha, where Creighton has only lost six times over the last three seasons. Creighton wins, 79-69.