clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

St. John's vs San Diego State: Red Storm look for their first NCAA Tournament victory in 15 years against Aztecs

New, 8 comments

The Johnnies make their first NCAA Tournament appearance in four years when they take on San Diego State in the South Regional on Friday.

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

After an early exit in postseason play at the end of what ultimately turned out to be a disappointing season for the St. John's Red Storm in 2013-14, the returning Red Storm seniors adopted the mantra of "Unfinished Business" heading into 2014-15. In three seasons at St. John's, those five seniors had never played in an NCAA Tournament game, but they spoke all offseason about how this year was going to be different.

Now, with a few impressive victories already under their belt, the Johnnies have achieved one of their main goals on the season, making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years.

But now their attention turns elsewhere, and with their five graduating seniors knowing that the next time they step on the court in a St. John's uniform could be their last, they believe that it's time to take care of even more unfinished business on Friday night against the Aztecs.

"Getting in was big for me. I know it was for everyone else," said D`Angelo Harrison after the brackets were announced on Sunday. "Winning games and having all these accolades does not mean anything because we haven't done anything in the NCAA Tournament."

While that statement rings true at the moment, the Red Storm will have a clear opportunity to change it on Friday night.

How to Watch/Listen

The game will be held in the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina as part of the South Regional. It will be a late 9:40 P.M. tip-off and can be found nationally on CBS as part of the network's NCAA Tournament package.

Live stream can be found at http://www.ncaa.com/march-madness-live/schedule.

Betting Odds

St. John's has opened up as a two-point underdog in the game.

Scouting St. John's

The Johnnies enter Friday night as a nine-seed in the South Region after they finished their season with a 21-11 overall record and a 10-8 mark in the Big East. Their last game was a disappointing performance in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals, as they struggled mightily shooting the ball and were rolled in a 74-57 loss.

After a four-game winning streak, St. John's has now dropped two straight by a wide margin as they head into the tournament.

Does it matter? Does a team need to go in hot?

Either way, D`Angelo Harrison will finally get to make his first NCAA Tournament appearance at the end of his storied St. John's career, and he led the team this season with an average of 17.5 points per game. Although he shot just 3-15 in the Red Storm's loss against Providence in the Big East Tournament, Harrison still has had an exceptional season shooting the ball.

His 41% shooting percentage from the field and 38% shooting from 3-point range are each career-highs, while he has also set a career-high in rebounding this season with just under six boards per game.

The Red Storm do feature a very balanced attack with two fellow seniors, Sir`Dominic Pointer and Phil Greene IV, also contributing greatly, along with sophomore Rysheed Jordan. Guard Jamal Branch also logs heavy minutes.

St. John's guards, Big East play 2015

Player
G
MIN/ GM
3PA/FGA
FTA/FGA
2P%
3P%
FT%
PTS/ GM
D'Angelo Harrison
18
35.2
44.1%
47.2%
43.0%
39.0%
78.7%
17.3
Phil Greene
18
36.7
44.5%
15.1%
46.2%
45.8%
69.7%
14.7
Sir'Dominic Pointer
18
35.7
7.2%
43.2%
53.2%
14.3%
70.9%
14.7
Rysheed Jordan
17
31.8
39.4%
45.2%
45.8%
39.1%
70.0%
13.8
Jamal Branch
15
20.9
26.7%
11.1%
46.9%
38.9%
87.5%
4.9

And the team has suddenly become a squad of sharpshooters. Branch (39%), Harrison (39%), Jordan (39%), and Greene (46%) all are excellent shooters from beyond the arc.

Pointer was snubbed from the All-Big East First Team last week after many thought he had a legitimate case for the conference's Player of the Year Award this season.

He shattered career-highs in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, and field goal percentage this season, all while playing a career-high 35 minutes per game. There's no way to put into words how important Pointer was for the Red Storm -without him they likely are not in the tournament.

Meanwhile Greene has also set a career-high in points, rebounds, and field-goal percentage this season, and he has taken over and drove St. John's to quite a few victories on their way to this point.

Rysheed Jordan has scored in double figures in the past seven games, all but one of them starts. His ability to create shots, use his length on defense, and handle the ball has been a part of the Red Storm's rise. He's shooting with more confidence and putting time in the gym, and it shows.

But there is no denying that the Johnnies will be limited on Friday night after Chris Obekpa was handed a two-week suspension from the team for a violation of team rules. The junior shot-blocker led the Big East and ranked fifth in the nation with just over three blocked shots per game, and he also finished second on the team with an even seven rebounds per game.

"Accountability is tied to the decision making of our student-athletes," Steve Lavin said on Sunday, "It is our hope Chris will learn from this experience."

This news comes as a crushing blow to the St. John's hopes in postseason play, as they already were not a top-notch defensive team even with Obekpa manning the paint. Now, with the NBA Draft just a few months away, many Red Storm fans have to wonder whether or not this will be the last mistake we see Obekpa make in his St. John's career.

In his place, expect the Johnnies to give more minutes to forwards Amar Alibegovic and Joey DeLaRosa, two big men who are eager, but are more apt to foul than score.

The rest of the bench that we assume to be available for St. John's:

St. John's remaining bench Big East play 2015
Player
G
MP
3PA/FGA
FTA/FGA
2P%
3P%
FT%
PTS
Amar Alibegovic
15
11.1
50.0%
13.6%
52.9%
18.8%
0.0%
1.8
Felix Balamou
12
11.4
0.0%
21.7%
29.6%
66.7%
1.7
Myles Stewart
8
2.6
71.4%
0.0%
66.7%
25.0%
1.3
Christian Jones
7
5.3
25.0%
75.0%
50.0%
0.0%
100.0%
0.6
Joey DeLaRosa
12
3.9
0.0%
25.0%
40.0%
0.0%
0.3

Scouting San Diego State

San Diego State come in as the eight seed in the region, having gone 26-8 overall and 14-4 in the Mountain West Conference. The Aztecs are one of the largest teams in the NCAA by weighted-height minutes and come in with one of the best defenses in the country. By advanced statistics, factoring in team tempo, the Aztecs have the nation's fourth-best defense.

What do they do so well? From our Q and A on San Diego State, Jeremy Mauss of Mountain West Connection tells us that "Their size, and athleticism, is a huge strength on defense as nearly any player is within reach on a driving player. There always seems to be many defensive plays where a ball gets tipped, blocked or knocked away because of that length."

David Frerker of San Diego Sports Domination adds that "SDSU is able to rotate in five new players every five to six minutes. All of the players know they need to play lockdown defense or they will not get playing time. The Aztecs love to playing man to man but have also been known to run the 1-3-1 zone staring St. Johns transfer Dwayne Polee II."

Skylar Spencer and Malik Pope have the best shot-blocking rate stats; both are 6'10". Dwayne Polee and J.J. O`Brien have the best steal rate stats; each is 6'7". And the short guys, Aqeel Quinn (6'3"), Trey Kell (6'4"), and shooter Matt Shrigley (6'6") can also pick up some steals.

But on offense, the Aztecs are... fairly bad. They shot 34% from beyond the arc in conference play (which is good) but 47% from inside the arc despite their height, didn't get to the free throw line, and shot 63% on free throws. Their saving grace was that they aren't terrible in terms of turning the ball over and they attack the offensive glass with abandon; and they share the ball with each other, not depending on a point guard to distribute for scoring.

They bleed the shot clock on offense, and have scored 59, 36, 57, 73, 46, and 46 in their regulation period losses. (They scored 62 in a loss to Cincinnati in overtime).

Clearly, they are a defense first team.

The Aztecs have had only four starting lineups this year, prompted in part by Polee's absence as he was treated for an irregular heartbeat.

Polee returned to the starting lineup for the Aztecs' conference championship game, taking the place of Matt Shrigley. Polee adds more defense to Steve Fisher's squad, while Shrigley took over 80% of his shots from beyond the arc, hitting 34%.

The Aztecs' most dangerous offensive player is Malik Pope, who shot 44% from beyond the arc in conference play. Guard Aqeel Quinn also takes his fair share of shots, and can hit buckets from outside the arc. Winston Shepard is the team's go-to scorer, but hasn't done it particularly efficiently. Wing Dakarai Allen (6'5") and center Angelo Chol (6'9") also saw minutes.

Those facts were compiled against a Mountain West Conference with good height and big men. Will the Aztecs play a different style against a Red Storm lineup that is far shorter? Will they post up inside?

San Diego State, Mountain West play 2015
Rk Player
G
MIN/ GM
3PA/FGA
FTA/FGA
2P%
3P%
FT%
PTS/ GM
1 Aqeel Quinn
18
28.5
42.9%
27.6%
48.0%
37.3%
70.8%
12.0
2 Winston Shepard
18
26.0
18.8%
36.6%
42.6%
32.4%
65.2%
11.2
3 J.J. OBrien
18
33.0
8.2%
23.7%
48.8%
26.7%
54.8%
10.6
4 Malik Pope
18
16.1
40.0%
31.1%
53.1%
43.8%
65.4%
6.2
5 Dwayne Polee
3
14.7
42.5%
32.5%
42.9%
60.0%
75.0%
6.0
6 Matt Shrigley
18
21.8
84.6%
1.9%
50.0%
33.8%
100.0%
5.4
7 Trey Kell
17
19.3
36.0%
42.0%
40.7%
22.6%
71.4%
5.3
8 Angelo Chol
18
14.4
0.0%
39.4%
53.3%
--
52.2%
4.2
9 Skylar Spencer
18
21.2
0.0%
59.1%
55.0%
--
45.8%
3.1
10 Dakarai Allen
17
13.6
20.0%
40.0%
38.2%
22.2%
64.7%
2.5

Keys to the Game

Speed up the pace. Whether the Aztecs attack St. John's in man or zone defense, the best offense for St. John's is going to be getting out in transition and breaking up the Aztecs' defensive shape. We can expect some extended pressure, and for SDSU to try and cut off Sir`Dominic Pointer's driving lanes. The Johnnies' coaching staff needs to have counters for their defensive actions, get out in transition, and the players need to move the ball around for open shots and drives against opponents who are not defensively set - exploiting holes and matchups.

Collapse defense + force turnovers. The Aztecs' height will make keeping them off the boards a challenge. But St. John's has played a small lineup all year. Against the likes of Xavier, their zone was active and defenders rotated in when a Xavier player thought he had a clear lane to the basket. The Red Storm defense has to be as sharp, as quick, and has to cause as much confusion - all while keeping the Aztecs from dunk and putback opportunities. Confusion leads to hurried shots and turnovers - chances for the Johnnies to get out in transition.

Shoot like it's practice. St. John's isn't winning this game in the paint - or at least, they're not winning this game unless they hit enough three pointers to open up driving lanes and force the Aztecs to play man defense. Rysheed Jordan and Phil Greene IV will have to take advantage of each of their opportunities; when those two get going, the whole team feeds.

Prediction

We believe St. John's can win this one - there is no father to their style, and their wildness will goad the Aztecs into mistakes. Johnnies win 60-58.