1. What matchup is going to be pivotal to either team’s successes in this game?
Andrew Padyk: The shot for shot matchup between Billy Garrett Jr. and D’Angelo Harrison. Both players are the best shooters on their respective teams and should be an interesting matchup between the two in terms of points production. Though it might be more likely that Rysheed Jordan might be guarding against Garrett, given the fact that Lavin will want to pressure Garrett into forcing turnovers, something that Jordan has excelled at.
Cam Newton: I’m certainly interested in the aforementioned guard matchup as well, but I think the more pivotal one will be taking place under the basket between Chris Obekpa and any of DePaul’s big men, from Hamilton to Henry to Robinson. Obekpa has certainly seen a decline in minutes in his past two games, but he is talented enough to, in my opinion, cause headaches for this DePaul defense that has consistently not done a good job of defending the paint.
2. St. John’s Red Storm guard D’Angelo Harrison is arguably the Big East’s best player. What does DePaul need to do defensively to keep him in check?
Andrew Padyk: If DePaul wants to shut down D’Angelo Harrison, they will need to cut off St. John’s secondary scoring options rather than totally focus on Harrison. It is simple and extremely effective, also something that St. John’s first three opponents managed to successfully do and what Providence failed to do in their game against St. John’s. Harrison is going to score there is no other way around that fact, he just has that ability to cut and get the ball to the basket. Everyone around him that’s a completely different story as St. John’s has struggled with consistent secondary scoring and foul troubles, especially those of Chris Obekpa. The true linchpin that DePaul will definitely want to keep in check is Rysheed Jordan who St. John’s best transition player when starting and best scorer when coming off the bench. DePaul might have their hands full against Harrison, but cutting down on the Johnnies secondary options could do wonders for the Blue Demons.
Cam Newton: As Andrew noted in his response, the notion of stopping D’Angelo Harrison is simply a farcical one. He is incontrovertibly one of the best players in the league and his importance to St. John’s is paramount. However, throughout the course of the season, DePaul’s pressure defense has done a pretty solid job of keeping many opposing guards in check. While there have been a few instances of players succeeding anyway (i.e. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera), opposing guards have been handled competently on many occasions. The Blue Demons’ back court will have to be very physical and willing to work hard to get solid double teams and steals, something they excelled at early on, but have since seen a decline in.
3. Who are the not-so-notable X-Factors that could give their teams a lift on Sunday afternoon?
Andrew Padyk: Foul trouble. Its not an X-Factor per se, but could be a contributing factor in this game as both teams have had issues with fouls. Foul trouble has plagued DePaul all season and doesn’t look like it will be stopping any time soon. In their last game against Georgetown, it became clear how the Blue Demons’ foul situation has been damaging their chances of winning games in the final stretch. Likewise is St. John’s, whose foul issues have come mainly from Chris Obekpa as he is a target to draw fouls with his style of play underneath the basket and also Sir’Dominic Pointer who in the last two games for St. John’s has either fouled out and come close to doing so. Both players are crucial to St. John’s play and the issue of fouls for the Johnnies as they do not have the bench depth to replace whom they have in the starting five. With both these in mind, it should be interesting to how Steve Lavin and Oliver Purnell coach come foul trouble as it could decide route the game takes.
Cam Newton: The key to DePaul’s success could be held by two players: Aaron Simpson and Tommy Hamilton IV, both for opposite reasons. Aaron Simpson, a transfer in his first season at DePaul, has seen his game blossom as of late, as he has seemingly found his shot, one that has been extremely efficient and helpful for the Blue Demons. With each passing game, Simpson seems to get better and better. I really feel as if he is due to come out in this game and score a solid chunk of points. It’ll be difficult, given St. Johns’ talented back court, but Simpson has proven, as of late, that he can hang with the the best the Big East has to offer.
On the flipside, Tommy Hamilton’s game has taken a major dip since Big East play began. Throughout the bulk of non-conference play, Hamilton was a force for the Blue Demons, providing a boost on both ends of the floor. Since his suspension for the Marquette game, his game has been severely lacking. Against Creighton, arguably the worst team in the Big East, he shot 2/10. If DePaul is to have any chance of success, he has to at least score a solid amount points efficiently. DePaul cannot afford the many missed opportunities it has seen in the paint as of late. Plus, with Obekpa in the lane, the onus is on Hamilton to shut down the Johnnies’ inside game.
4. DePaul has a very high 3-point rate and field goal percentage from the perimeter. St. John’s can counter with a stout perimeter defense. Who wins this matchup on the boundary, and why?
Andrew Padyk: The battle of the boundary is certainly going to be an interesting one between the two sides. St. John’s can counter DePaul’s high three ball rate, they have the defensive ability and guard depth to do it, especially in applying pressure on the ball for a turnovers and transition play. But who wins this matchup? Actually not sure to make a solid prediction, it more or less comes down to what will actually happen on the court. If Jordan and company can create the necessary spacing and pressure to force bad shots, turnovers, and transition than St. John’s will be fine on the boundary, on the other side if DePaul gets spacing much like Butler had against St. John’s then the Johnnies will be in for a long day.
Cam Newton: Matchups are exactly what this hinges on, but I believe that DePaul wins this battle simply because they have more players who are capable of shooting well from beyond the arc than St. John’s could possibly hope to defend. Take DePaul’s starters from the Georgetown game, for example (Henry, Garrett, Simpson, Crockett, and Robinson). Every single player on that list is capable of knocking down threes. Even many of DePaul’s other key players such as Tommy Hamilton and Durrell McDonald have shown their ability to hit threes. St. John’s can try all they want, but DePaul will find a reliable three-pointer shooter, no matter who they look to.
5. Who wins this game?
Andrew Padyk: DePaul struggled to overcome foul issues and teams were shooting 50% against them in their last two games. On top of this, St. John’s looked like their non-conference selves against Providence on the road at the Dunkin Donuts Center. This one is going to be a close one, but I think St. John’s will walk out of the Allstate Arena with their second win in conference play this season.
Cam Newton: The homestand continues for the Blue Demons and they are most certainly eager to prevent a three-game conference skid. This game is going to be very hard-fought and there’s no doubt in my mind that it will deserve the full attention of college basketball fans all around the country. I know I’ll be tuned into it over the playoffs. I think DePaul wins this one due to their three-point shooting and the amount of turnovers they will force (Rysheed Jordan is prone to turning it over). I have DePaul winning 81-79.