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Game Preview: Xavier vs. St. John's

The contest is the first of five Big East games on New Year's Eve

James Farr Has Been A Surprise for the Musketeers in 2013-14
James Farr Has Been A Surprise for the Musketeers in 2013-14
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Teams: Xavier (10-3) vs. St. John's (9-3)

Day: Tuesday, Dec. 31

Time: 12:00 PM ET

Location: Cintas Center; Cincinnati, OH.

TV: FOX Sports 1

Four Factors



St. John’s

Effective FG%






Off. Rebounding%






A staple of Xavier as a member of the Atlantic 10 conference was the ability to defend their home court at the Cintas Center. Since moving to the on-campus facility prior to the 2000-01 campaign, the Musketeers compiled a record of 94-13 (87.5%) in home conference games, including an A-10 record 43 straight spanning from 2006 to 2012. As Xavier moves to the Big East, they have a chance to establish home court dominance, as their first three conference games will be played at the Cintas Center. St. John’s opens that stretch with a New Year’s Eve tilt.

The Red Storm enter the contest at 9-3, but have yet to record an RPI top-100 win, where Xavier ranks 44th. Big men Matt Stainbrook and Isaiah Philmore have led the Musketeers in their last two games, wins over Alabama and Wake Forest. Dominance inside may not come as easy against the Red Storm, as Steve Lavin’s team leads the country blocking 24.6% of their opponent’s 2-point shots per Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings.

Sophomore center Chris Obekpa leads the Red Storm defensive attack, ranking second in the country with 4.42 blocks per game, despite only playing 22.1 minutes a game. Orlando Sanchez (1.4), Jakarr Sampson (1.2), and Sir’Dominic Porter (1.2) also average over one block per contest for St. John’s. The length and athleticism of the Red Storm frontcourt may bother Xavier’s Stainbrook, Philmore, and James Farr, who rely more on strength and positioning than athleticism. The Musketeers get 13.1% of their 2-point attempts blocked by opponents, the second worst rate in the Big East. The Red Storm personnel is reminiscent to Xavier’s first round opponent in the 2011 NCAA tournament, Minnesota. The Musketeers won that match-up despite getting swatted 10 times in the first half.

As a more dominant team inside than outside, making the guards settle for jump shots is the best game plan for defeating St. John’s. No player on the roster has a 3-point percentage greater than 38.5%, and the team collectively shoots 33.3% from behind the arc. By keeping the Johnnies out of transition, Xavier can rely on their pack-line defensive principles and force the visitors to convert jumpers. Semaj Christon will likely defend leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison, who averages 19.5 points per game. Christon has established himself as a defensive star this season, as he has the size and athleticism to bother a player like Harrison. If the Musketeers continue to rebound like they have in recent games, St. John’s is prone to long field-goal droughts.

The game will have the feel of an old school, Big East slugfest, with each team’s strength being in the post. The home crowd in the Cintas Center will be fired up for Xavier’s first Big East game and fuel a team that has gained some positive momentum, rattling off five consecutive wins following a three-game losing streak in November. For Xavier to win, they must not be intimidated by St. John’s shot-blocking prowess, and stick to their defensive pack-line philosophy. A low scoring, slow game will favor Xavier and open their Big East schedule on the right foot.