Before heading out west for a week, St. John’s will take on the Sacred Heart Pioneers today at Carnesecca Arena.
Before St. John’s (6-1) heads out to the West Coast, they will play their first game at Carnesecca Arena since November 20 this afternoon when they host the Sacred Heart Pioneers (3-4) out of the NEC. You can watch the game at 4:30 p.m ET on Fox Sports 1.
Sacred Heart was picked to finish fifth in the conference during the preseason. The bulk of their scoring comes from their two main frontcourt players, forwards Joseph Lopez and Mario Matasovic, who both average around 13 points per game.
Out of those two players, Matasovic finds a way to put the ball in the basket at a consistent rate. The senior forward is shooting 65 percent from the floor and has scored in double figures in each of the seven games he has played. Also, he has six or more rebounds in four of those games.
While Sacred Heart has only scored around 67 points per game, their strength has been on defense. In the early stages of this season, they have held teams to about 72 points per game, 44 percent shooting, and their 10.7 rebounding margin is the highest of any team in the NEC.
On the boards, Lopez leads the team with nine rebounds per game. He had 20 points and 13 rebounds in the team’s win over UMASS-Lowell on Wednesday. Also, freshman EJ Anosike has had games in which he had 17 (Nov. 19 vs. Maine) and 16 rebounds (Nov. 22 against Mitchell).
For St. John’s, they are going to have to keep their primary focus on the frontcourt in this game and get on the glass. This season, the Red Storm are fifth in the Big East in rebounds, but a lot of that has been on Justin Simon (8.7 per game) and Shamorie Ponds (6.7).
One of the weaknesses for the Johnnies early in the season has been defending the perimeter. Fortunately, for the Red Storm, Sacred Heart only shoots about 25 percent as a team from three-point range (lowest in the conference), despite averaging 20 three-point attempts per game.
One pioneer who hasn’t struggled from long distance is junior guard Sean Hoehn. In his last three games, he is 6-for-14 from beyond the arc and has 16 or more points in two of those contests.
On defense, the Red Storm are 6-0 when Marcus LoVett records at least one steal. There’s a good chance LoVett could wind up with a few thefts in this game as the Pioneers have 126 turnovers this year (most in the NEC). They have turned it over at least 17 times in each of their last four games.
Another key to watch on St. John’s is if their offensive rhythm improves from the 46 point performance they had against Central Florida last Sunday. In that win, Ponds only had six points after scoring in double figures each of the first six games.
Overall, St. John’s should win this game convincingly because their frontcourt defense, which has about six blocks per game, should contain the scoring down low. But, in these kinds of games, it is important to get ahead early, which they struggled with at times down in Orlando.