The Big East is never a cakewalk. If your team is not careful, they could get battered before knowing what hit them. St. John’s once again learned this lesson on Tuesday night when Seton Hall led by as much as 28 over the Johnnies in an 80-65 shellacking that was worse than the final score implied.
With their legendary head coach back on the sideline tomorrow, St. John’s is still in great shape to make the NCAA tournament, but their next four opponents are all rated inside the top 30 nationally in KenPom. At minimum, a split is necessary if the Red Storm wants to remain secure in the field of 68. Their first of these four opponents are the 17th ranked Marquette Golden Eagles, who have fluctuated between stellar and deflating performances in conference play.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm vs. No. 17 Marquette Golden Eagles (12-5)
When: Saturday, January 20, 2024, 12:00 p.m.
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Radio: Learfield Red Storm Sports Network, Sirius XM Channel 389
Opening Odds: St. John’s (+1.5), O/U at 154.5
Series History: Marquette leads, 27-16. St. John’s has lost their last four meetings.
St. John’s is 12-6 overall, and they are tied for fourth in the Big East standings with a conference record of 4-3. St. John’s is currently rated 38th in KenPom and 37th in NET rankings while holding the 42nd best strength of record (SOR). Their records by NET quadrants are as follows, with opponents defeated in bold:
- 2-4 in Quad 1 games (Utah, Dayton, @ UConn, @ Villanova, @ Creighton, @ Seton Hall)
- 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 Marquette (NET #18) at home gives St. John’s a chance to claim a Quad 1 win. St. John’s has lost their last two Quad 1 opportunities against Creighton and Seton Hall on the road.
According to Bracket Matrix, St. John’s is seeded in 74 different bracketology selections with an average seed of 7.84. In his latest update, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has moved St. John’s down to an 8-seed after their loss to Seton Hall.
According to Rick Pitino, Jordan Dingle will miss a second straight game due to illness. It is unclear if his illness was COVID, considering Rick Pitino missed time with a positive COVID diagnosis.
Assistant coaches Van Macon, Ricky Johns, and Taliek Brown will also be unavailable because of COVID.
Scouting the Golden Eagles
Head coach Shaka Smart’s patented defensive system is known as “Mayhem,” and this season’s edition of Smart’s high-pressured play style may be the best in his three seasons in Milwaukee. The Golden Eagles rank 14th in the country in KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency and are in the 98th percentile nationally in opponent turnover percentage (20.6%). Marquette capitalizes on the many mistakes they force, with their 20.1 points off turnovers ranking in the top 5 nationally.
The Golden Eagles can also dictate the game by controlling the tempo. They can ignite on the fastbreak, scoring the 8th most points on the break nationally. They also prevent teams from getting extra possessions by only having a 12.8% turnover percentage, which is the 34th-best clip in the country.
In conference play, Marquette is a mixed bag offensively. They shoot 50.9% from twos but are a dreadful 27.8% from three. They compound their three-point difficulties by shooting an excessive amount of them, ranking first in the conference, taking 27.0 three-point attempts per game.
The Golden Eagles do a fantastic job of preventing opposing teams from claiming offensive rebounds, holding opponents to a 25.0% offensive rebound percentage, which ranks top 35 in the country. They also have difficulty generating second-chance opportunities themselves, with a tepid 28.3% offensive rebound rate.
Marquette is led by three scorers averaging double-figures who will all receive NBA draft consideration this summer: Kam Jones (15.3 ppg), Tyler Kolek (14.2 ppg), and Oso Ighodaro (13.8 ppg).
Last season’s Big East player of the year, Tyler Kolek, is the most valuable member of this triumvirate and, by extension, this Marquette team. Kolek’s playstyle is a throwback to old-school point guards, whose first instinct is to facilitate the offense and create plays for others. He’s on pace to lead the Big East in assists per game for a third straight season, as his 6.6 dimes per contest exceed the rest of the conference. Kolek is also skillful enough to catch fire while creating his own shot, as evidenced by his 28-point outburst against Texas earlier this season.
Oso Ighodaro shares the same selfless mindset with the ball, albeit in an unexpected position. As a 6-foot-9 center who can distribute the ball effectively, Ighodaro gives Marquette an edge that very few teams in college basketball possess. Ighodaro’s 2.5 assists per game rank in the 95th percentile amongst his fellow centers. He also bears the traits of traditional bigs; he pulls down 2.9 offensive boards per game, and his shot-blocking presence (3.5% block rate) is enough to dissuade opponents from attacking the rim.
Oso Ighodaro, a projected first round pick, was a game-changer for Marquette in their win over UCLA, serving as a primary playmaking hub on one end and a significant rim-protecting deterrent on the other. pic.twitter.com/NGCbhuHBGg— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) November 21, 2023
Jones is a versatile in-and-out scorer who rarely takes mid-range jumpers. Over the entire season, he’s shooting 68.8% on attempts at the rim. However, Jones is struggling from deep in conference play, hitting 21% from three. Returning to his previous form wouldn’t be shocking, as he sniped 39% and 36% from beyond in his first two collegiate seasons.
Keys to the game
Wake up! - The Johnnies’ energy level over the last three games has been concerningly sluggish, particularly from the starters. The off-ball movement has been static; ballhandlers are telegraphing their passes, players aren’t hitting the deck for loose balls, and St. John’s is failing to get back in transition and allowing shooters to bombard them on the fastbreak. St. John’s needs to take the initiative and show some life against a physical Marquette team.
Control Kolek, Jones, and Ighodaro - The playmaking trio of Tyler Kolek, Kam Jones, and Oso Ighodaro keep the Marquette machine humming. If St. John’s can slow down at least one of these three, that could be enough to prevent the Golden Eagles offense from firing up.
Stop hacking and whacking - There has been much focus on the foul disparity in the Red Storm’s last several games. The uncomfortable reality is that some teams will foul a lot, and some will not; St. John’s resides in the first category. The Johnnies committed 20 fouls against Creighton, plus another 23 fouls against Seton Hall, and very few were borderline 50/50 calls. St. John’s needs to start playing cleaner defense sooner rather than later.
Marquette’s defensive system is so meticulous and well-executed that I am not sure if St. John’s will be able to get back into offensive rhythm after a two-game skid. This game might come down to the wire. The Red Storm haven’t proven they can deliver the killing blow yet, plus the latest COVID outbreak amongst the coaching staff might throw the team out of its routine. Marquette wins in a nail-biter, 68-65.