After their win over Creighton on Wednesday, St. John’s will look to continue that progress at Cameron Indoor Stadium vs. Duke on Saturday.
You could make the argument that the St. John’s Red Storm salvaged their season on Wednesday night with their win over Creighton. Now, they get set to begin their toughest two road games of the entire season against number two Duke and number ten Marquette.
First up is a matchup against the Blue Devils at the famous Cameron Indoor Stadium (noon ET, ESPN).
St. John’s hasn’t won at Cameron in 19 years and it will not be an easy task to go into that environment and pull off an upset that would drastically change the Red Storm’s tournament hopes next month. Plus, it gives New York Knicks fans a chance to watch superstar freshmen Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett.
The one thing that Red Storm fans saw last year in what was a lost season is that this talented bunch usually plays up to the level of competition they face. That was evident last year when St. John’s upset Duke at MSG a year ago, but the Blue Devils are a completely different cast of characters in 2019.
As for stopping Williamson, the Red Storm should only hope to contain him or let him get all the points while limiting all the members of the supporting cast. The projected top pick in this June’s draft averages 22 points and 9.1 rebounds per game and St. John’s just doesn’t have enough size down low to limit his touches.
So, if Williamson is going to dominate the paint, it is going to be up to the Red Storm guards like Justin Simon, Mustapha Heron, and LJ Figueroa to turn Duke into a three-point shooting team. Yes, Barrett averages 23.5 points per night and the Blue Devils do have Tre Jones at point guard who can facilitate the ball with the best of them.
With that being said, Duke only shoots 31.1 percent from beyond the arc as a team. To put that into perspective, in conference play, they shoot 28.9 percent from downtown. The only team in the ACC that has a worse percentage than the Blue Devils is Wake Forest (24.6 percent).
While Duke’s starters don’t shoot the three well, keep an eye on sophomore guard Alex O’Connell, who is a 38.3 percent shooter from downtown. Their bench makes the team go eight or nine players deep and that is a big advantage they have compared to St. John’s.
As for the Red Storm, this has to be a game where Shamorie Ponds takes over on offense. Ponds has at least 20 points in seven consecutive games and was the difference against Creighton on Wednesday when he had 26 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, and six steals.
Last year, in the Red Storm’s 83-77 win over Duke, Ponds had a game-high 33 points on an afternoon where only two other St. John’s players scored in double figures. In order to pull off a monumental upset on Saturday, they are going to need Simon, Heron, and Figueroa to help out with the scoring in order to avoid those long scoring droughts.
Offense is going to be tough to come by for St. John’s in this game when you consider Duke only gives up 65.9 points per game. So, while the Blue Devils might struggle to shoot from the perimeter, their defense is going to keep them in every game that they play in.
If St. John’s can somehow pull off the upset, it will be one of the more memorable wins for the school in the last two decades and it will bring the local buzz that the New York City basketball scene could use right now. It’s tough to expect a win, but the expectation should be that the Red Storm keep this game close and competitive in the second half.
With Dick Vitale part of the broadcasting crew on Saturday, it is a good way to start the weekend and a great test to see where St. John’s stands in the national landscape.