St. John’s gets their first look at Butler this afternoon as the Bulldogs look to continue their push towards an NCAA Tournament bid.
The path to the first win in Big East play for the St. John’s Red Storm (10-11, 0-10 Big East) doesn’t get easy anytime soon. Before they start a stretch of three straight games against top 10 opponents (Duke is one of them), they will be in Indianapolis this afternoon to take on the Butler Bulldogs (14-7, 4-4). You can watch the game at 2:30 p.m ET on Fox Sports 1.
While Butler is only a .500 team in the league so far under first-year coach LaVall Jordan, they have some quality wins that have put them right in the NCAA Tournament conversation. This includes a home win against number one Villanova and a neutral court win against now number 13 Ohio State back in November.
In the four years that St. John’s has faced Butler, the Bulldogs are 5-3 against the Red Storm and 3-1 in games at Hinkle Fieldhouse. In the last three meetings between these two teams in Indianapolis, Butler has won by an average of 26.6 points.
When you look at this Butler team, they have three players that average in double figures, led by senior forward Kelan Martin (19.7 points per game). Martin has scored 20 or more points in three of his last five games, including putting up 37 points against Marquette on Jan. 12.
Martin is also the team’s leading rebounder (6.5 per game) and the Bulldogs are a team that can be beaten on the glass. As a team, Butler has averaged 35 rebounds per game, which is eighth in the Big East (St. John’s has 34.5 boards per game).
Tariq Owens can help the Red Storm to a degree with their rebounding. While he isn’t the team’s leading rebounder, he does have five or more rebounds in five straight games. Also, he has helped more on offense with his scoring (31 points in the last two games).
A common problem for St. John’s this year has been defending from the perimeter, which Creighton took advantage of on Tuesday. While Butler only shoots 34.7 percent as a team from downtown, keep an eye on the backcourt of Paul Jorgensen and Kamar Baldwin (73 combined three-pointers).
Baldwin could provide St. John’s with a lot of problems in the backcourt. In addition to scoring in double figures every game in conference play, the sophomore guard has just five combined turnovers in their last four games.
The good ballhandling by Baldwin will be tested by a St. John’s backcourt that has the capability to rack up steals in bunches. Justin Simon did a good job controlling the offense in the second half on Tuesday, but his defense is known to frustrate opposing guards (three or more steals in four of his last five games).
Of course, the Red Storm might need Simon’s offense more than ever today if Shamorie Ponds can’t go. Ponds (bruised quad) is one of two players that might miss the game today due to injury. Zach Braziller of the New York Post reported yesterday that he is a game-time decision for today’s game:
Kassoum Yakwe (ankle) and Shamorie Ponds (thigh bruise) will be game-time decisions tomorrow, per Chris Mulln. #sjubb
— Zach Braziller (@NYPost_Brazille) January 26, 2018
If Ponds can’t go, that means St. John’s will have to find other scoring options. One name that can help in that department is Marvin Clark II. Clark II has taken 10 shots in three straight games, but he needs to avoid getting into foul trouble early since the team doesn’t have much depth.
St. John’s has done a great job of keeping games close in conference play when they head into tough arenas to play in. They have a chance to play spoiler to Butler’s NCAA Tournament hopes, but it is tough to expect this team to win at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Look for the Red Storm to be 0-10 in Big East play for the second time in three years.