The emotional states of St. John’s and Xavier are polar opposites entering Wednesday night’s game. The Red Storm are still buzzing from a 70-50 smacking of Villanova and have enjoyed a whole week of rest between games. Meanwhile, the Musketeers are licking their wounds after getting dragged around the court by UConn in a 99-56 demolition derby on Sunday.
St. John’s never trailed Xavier when these two teams first met in December, as the Red Storm dispatched them 81-66 in their conference opener, but it would be naive to assume they can replicate that outing in a road venue where the Red Storm have frequently struggled. Since Xavier joined the Big East in 2013, St. John’s has only won two of their ten meetings with the Musketeers inside the Cintas Center. In last season’s meeting in Cincinnati, St. John’s was on the wrong end of a 96-71 clubbing.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (13-7) vs. Xavier Musketeers (10-10)
When: Wednesday, January 31, 2024, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Cintas Center, Cincinnati, Ohio
Radio: Learfield Red Storm Sports Network, Sirius XM Channel 389
Opening Odds: St. John’s (+1), O/U at 154.5
Series History: Xavier leads, 16-7
St. John’s is 13-7 overall, and they are tied for fifth in the Big East standings with a conference record of 5-4. St. John’s is currently ranked 32nd in KenPom and 35th in NET while holding the 15th-best strength of schedule rating in KenPom. Their records by NET quadrants are as follows, with opponents defeated in bold:
- 2-5 in Quad 1 games (Utah, Dayton, @ UConn, @ Villanova, @ Creighton, @ Seton Hall, Marquette)
- 5-1 in Quad 2 games (North Texas, Boston College, Xavier, Butler, Providence, Villanova)
- 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 Xavier (NET #52) on the road gives St. John’s a chance to claim a Quad 1 win.
According to Bracket Matrix, St. John’s is seeded in 86 different bracketology selections with an average seed of 8.16. In his latest update, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has moved St. John’s up to an 8-seed.
According to Zach Braziller of the New York Post, Nahiem Alleyne (ankle sprain) is expected to return Wednesday night versus Xavier. He missed last week’s game against Villanova, despite participating in pregame warmups. Alleyne hurt his ankle after colliding with Chris Ledlum for a rebound early in the first half against Marquette on January 20.
Storylines to follow
Despite the Musketeers’ nightmare in Storrs, Xavier’s backcourt duo of Quincy Olivari and Dayvion McKnight have been shooting unconsciously as of late. McKnight was held to a quiet 8-point performance when he last faced St. John’s, but the senior transfer from Western Kentucky is catching fire recently. McKnight is averaging 19.0 points on 58.7% from the field, 57.1% from three, and 87.5% from the charity stripe in his last four games. Olivari has been lights out, shooting 53.6% from three on 7.0 attempts per game in his previous four.
It’s a different tale for the Red Storm’s long-range game, as St. John’s is shooting 28.9% in their last five games. They have survived despite their three-point shooting woes, largely thanks to their ability to generate second-chance opportunities off their 40.1% offensive rebound percentage that ranks fourth nationally. Having a healthy Jordan Dingle and a potentially returning Nahiem Alleyne in the fold could relieve the pressure on Chris Ledlum and Joel Soriano to gobble up the offensive glass.
Speaking of Soriano, he could have another incredible game against a shorthanded Xavier frontcourt. He treated whichever Musketeer big assigned to him like his personal punching bag, logging 18 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, and a season-high six blocks when he last faced Xavier on December 20th.
Keys to the game
Lock down Olivari and McKnight - St. John’s got away with suspect perimeter defense against Villanova, as plenty of the Wildcats’ 25 missed threes were good looks. The Red Storm can’t rely on opposing teams to beat themselves from around the perimeter, especially against a pair of snipers who have been on a prolonged heater.
Mix it up against X - The Musketeers were perplexed by the Red Storm’s mixture of press and matchup zone defense in their first matchup. St. John’s needs to maintain that dynamism and energy against Xavier.
Attack the paint - Since their last meeting, the Musketeers’ big-man rotation of Abou Ousmane, Gytis Nemeikša, Sasa Ciani, and Lazar Djokovic haven’t exactly been lighting the world on fire. Ousmane is prone to getting into foul trouble, averaging a team-high 3.5 fouls per game. The Red Storm have operated as a perimeter team on offense, but they should adjust their plans against a faulty Xavier frontcourt and make sure Joel Soriano, Chris Ledlum, and R.J. Luis take it to the Musketeers inside the paint.
It’s been a down year for Xavier. However, there’s a reason why the metrics love them despite their .500 record. They haven’t lost to a KenPom team ranked outside of the top 45 since their shocking defeat to Delaware on December 5, they’ve collected wins over tournament probables like Cincinnati, Providence, Butler, and Seton Hall, and they have given AP top 5 teams UConn and Houston a scare at home.
No doubt the detail-obsessed Sean Miller read his team the riot act in preparation for this game, and St. John’s could get off to a slow start coming off a long break. Xavier will play with desperation as they sit on the fringes of the NCAA tournament picture, and St. John’s will be challenged to match their intensity. The Cintas Center atmosphere will be hostile, but the Red Storm’s recent string of close calls against the best of the Big East stirs more confidence that they can take care of business here. St. John’s wins, 83-77.