St. John’s begins a stretch of playing three straight opponents ranked in the top six of the AP Poll when they host #6 Xavier tonight.
It was a rough weekend for the St. John’s Red Storm (10-12, 0-10 Big East) out in Indianapolis as they were blown out by Butler, 70-45 in a game where they allowed the Bulldogs to go on a 19-2 run in the first eight minutes of the game. Plus, the Red Storm’s leading scorer, Shamorie Ponds, only had two points for the entire game.
Well, the schedule doesn’t get easier for St. John’s as they look to snap their 10-game losing streak. Tonight, they are at Carnesecca Arena to take on #6 Xavier (19-3, 7-2). You can watch the game on CBS Sports Network at 8:30 p.m ET.
Xavier is actually the lowest-ranked opponent that St. John’s will play over this three-game stretch. After their matchup with the Musketeers, they host #4 Duke on Saturday and then pay a visit to #1 Villanova on Feb. 7.
In the first meeting between St. John’s and Xavier on Jan. 17, the Red Storm were competitive but ended up losing the game by a final score of 88-82. The question going into this one is if the Red Storm can bounce back after the dismal performance they had against Butler.
If the Red Storm are going to have a chance to pull off the upset, they are going to have to avoid long scoring droughts. In that first matchup, St. John’s made their first 12 shots in the second half. But, from the 9:24 mark until 2:04 left in the second half, a three-point lead turned into a 12-point deficit.
One of the catalysts in terms of offense for the Red Storm in that game was guard Justin Simon, who had 28 points and nine assists. Since that game, the sophomore has scored 33 points combined in his last three games. The key for him will be his shots outside of the paint, which he made five of them on seven attempts on Jan. 17.
When any team plays against Xavier, you have to stop Trevon Bluiett to have any chance. Blueitt is averaging 18.9 points per game and is shooting 43 percent from downtown. When he isn’t scoring points, he finds a way to contribute on the glass as he did with the ten rebounds he had against Marquette on January 24.
If we focus on the frontcourt, it should be a good matchup between Tariq Owens and Kerem Kanter. Owens has been one of the Red Storm’s best scoring options lately (double figures in his last three games) and he’s had two or more blocks in each of his last six contests.
As for Kanter, he had 13 rebounds against St. John’s back on Jan. 17. Since that game, he has just three rebounds in the last two games combined. In fact, against Marquette, it was Blueitt who had about a third of Xavier’s rebounds. Now, the Musketeers did win by 19 points, but St. John’s needs to find a way to keep it close in the rebounding margin.
Whenever a heavy underdog goes up against a top 10 opponent, they need to hit their three-pointers. While St. John’s had 11 trifectas in the first matchup, they have hit 19 combined threes since that game. Without getting quick points from the perimeter, Xavier can go to a zone defense and frustrate the Red Storm.
Also, St. John’s needs to play a clean game on offense like they did on Jan. 17 when they only had five turnovers as a team while forcing 15 turnovers on the defensive end. They have the guards to frustrate Xavier with Ponds and Simon, but the key will be turning those steals into quick points.
While the Red Storm shouldn’t be expected to get their first win in conference play tonight, it is fair to expect the team to not get blown out and at least stay in the game into the second half. The home crowd should help to a degree, but Chris Mullin and his staff will look to avoid another embarrassing defeat.