St. John’s will try to avoid a 0-3 start in Big East play tonight against one of the best offenses in the country in Creighton.
It’s been a rough start to Big East play for the St. John’s Red Storm (10-4, 0-2 Big East). They’ve battled injuries to their top two guards in Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett and their three-point defense has been a big question mark (49 percent in conference play).
It doesn’t get any easier for the Red Storm as they will go up against a great offense in the Creighton Blue Jays tonight in Omaha, Nebraska (11-3, 1-1). You can watch the game at 8 p.m ET on Fox Sports 1. Since they joined the Big East starting in 2013-14, Creighton is 6-2 against St. John’s in eight meetings.
When you talk about Creighton’s offense, Greg McDermott’s squad is one of the best in college basketball. They have scored 91.1 points per game, fourth-highest in Division I. Their leading scorer, guard Marcus Foster (19 points per game), has scored in double figures in every game, including 32 points against UT Arlington on December 18.
The Blue Jays have three players that average in double figures for the season, but that’s not the most impressive part of their offense. Instead, it’s the fact that with the team scoring over 90 points per game, they are the sixth-best team in the nation in assists per game (38.6). Even with that stat, they don’t have one player that’s in the top five in that category the Big East. That makes them even more difficult to defend—nearly everyone is adept at moving the rock to find an open shooter.
For St. John’s, they will have their troubles stopping this Blue Jays backcourt with Foster and junior Khyri Thomas (14.8 points per game). Both players shoot over 37 percent from downtown (Foster – 42 percent). But, as a team, Creighton is just 15-for-55 (30 percent) from three in conference play.
If Ponds and LoVett both don’t play tonight, then Bashir Ahmed is the player to watch in the backcourt for the Red Storm. Ahmed has scored in double figures in four straight games and is 5-for-9 from three-point range in Big East play. Plus, he is third on the team in steals (17).
In the frontcourt for Creighton, the player to watch is sophomore forward Martin Krampelj. Krampelj is averaging 18 points per game in Big East play, has had double digit-rebounds in five games this year, and is third in the conference in field goal percentage (65 percent).
The Red Storm will once again be a big underdog in this game if Ponds and LoVett are out. Right now, the latest from Zach Braziller of the New York Post is that Ponds has practiced and LoVett hasn’t:
Shamorie Ponds practiced, Marcus LoVett didn't today, per source. #sjubb
— Zach Braziller (@NYPost_Brazille) January 3, 2018
While I wouldn’t pick them to win this game tonight, the one thing they showed against Seton Hall was that they have the ability to keep the game competitive with their defense.
So far, you could make the case that Marvin Clark II has been St. John’s best player in the first couple of games in Big East play. Yes, it is a small sample size, but he has averaged 18 points per game. They will need his offense and the shot-blocking presence of Tariq Owens to try to slow down Creighton’s offense.
While people will talk about Villanova, Xavier, and Seton Hall as the top tier of the Big East, Creighton isn’t that far behind. They could make some noise in March with their balanced offensive attack. It is safe to say the Red Storm defense will have their hands full tonight.