St. John’s defense faces toughest test of season against Arizona State
Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

Tonight, the St. John’s defense will try to slow down one of the top offenses in the country in Arizona State

At the Staples Center tonight, the St. John’s Red Storm (8-1) have a chance to make a national statement when they take on the No. 16 Arizona State Sun Devils (8 p.m ET, PAC-12 Network).

For the Red Storm, it’s going to come down to whether or not their defense can stop one of the best offenses in the nation. In their first seven games, the Sun Devils have averaged 92.7 points per game, which is the fourth-most in college basketball. They have scored 90 or more points in every game but one (75 against San Francisco on Dec. 2).

When you look at Arizona State’s offense, it starts with point guard Tra Holder, who is averaging 22.1 points per game and shooting almost 49 percent from downtown. When he last faced a Big East team on November 24, he put up 40 points in a win over Xavier.

The point guard matchup in this game is worth the price of admission between Holder and Shamorie Ponds. Ponds, who is averaging 20 ppg, has scored over 25 points in four of his last five games. He will fill up the stat sheet with points, but he can also bother Holder if you go by the fact he has 12 steals in his last three games.

Of course, Arizona State’s offense is more than just Holder. Bobby Hurley’s team has five players averaging in double figures for the season. That includes freshman forward Romello White (15.7 ppg), who is the team’s leading rebounder (9.3 rebounds per game).

It is still a big question mark as to whether or not St. John’s will have Marcus LoVett in the lineup (sprained knee). According to Zach Braziller of the New York Post, it is unlikely he does play tonight:

If LoVett doesn’t play, Justin Simon needs to play well for St. John’s to have a chance. Ponds and Simon scored most of the Red Storm’s points in the second half against Grand Canyon, so those two would have to do the bulk of the scoring.

Simon’s impact on this game is going to come from the defensive end. He is familiar with some of these Arizona State players from his time at Arizona. St. John’s will need him to be a factor on the glass and find a way to get some steals (he recorded no steals Tuesday against Grand Canyon).

If St. John’s wants to win this game, they will have to limit second-chance points better than they did against the Antelopes on Tuesday night. In that game, they were outrebounded 18-8 on the offensive glass. That will require players like Marvin Clark II and Tariq Owens to stay out of early foul trouble.

While Arizona State has put up a ton of points, rebounding hasn’t been their strong suit in the early stages of 2017-18. While White is third in the Pac-12 on the boards, Arizona State’s 35.7 rebounds per game are the second fewest of any team in their league (Washington State has 35.6).

Right now, this is a no-lose situation for St. John’s. Losing on a neutral court will not hurt their chances at a postseason bid with all the quality win opportunities in the Big East. However, a win against a Top 20 team would get the city buzzing about this team and put them higher up on a national radar.

The only chance St. John’s has at winning this game is if they hold Arizona State in the low 80’s at most in points. It will be a tall order, but the Red Storm have allowed only 60 points per game this year (tied for seventh in the nation). They will need to rely on defense to pull off the upset tonight.

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