The St. John’s Red Storm (8-2) is coming down the homestretch of their non-conference schedule. The Red Storm will take on the defending MAAC champion Iona Gaels (5-4) in the Madison Square Garden Holiday Festival on Sunday afternoon.
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The Johnnies are listed as a 10.5-point favorite, according to Oddsshark.com
KenPom lists St. John's as an 85 percent favorite to win on Sunday, predicting a final score of 82-70.
This will be 10th meeting between both schools, and the first since 1995. St. John's leads the series 6-3, but the two schools have traded victories over the last six meetings.
What to Watch For
This game between Iona and St. John's is a match up between two almost-identical teams. Both teams love to push the pace on the floor and expect the Gaels and the Red Storm to enter guns blazing at the Garden on Sunday. Since Tim Cluess took over the head coaching spot at Iona--taking over for current Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard--the Gaels have employed an uptempo style of attack. While this year's Gaels don't move as fast as some of Cluess' other Iona squads, they're still up-tempo in comparison to the rest of the Division I collegiate basketball landscape.
Like St. John's, the Gaels are led by their backcourt. They might not have similar numbers to the Red Storm's Shamorie Ponds or Marcus LoVett, but they're still pretty good and will be the key focus of this Sunday's game. Rickey McGill is back as the Gaels' facilitator. The 6-foot-1 junior is a great all-around point guard, one that can score, dish, rebound, and play defense. He's averaging a team-high 13.9 points, 5.6 assists, and 1.7 steals. He looks much-improved from last season, which was his first as a full-time point guard. Helping him out in the backcourt are a pair of streaky three-point shooters, graduate transfer Zach Lewis and fifth-year senior Deyshonee Much. They can get hot or cold depending on the day. There's also a couple of guys upfront who can contribute to the scoring load--E.J. Crawford and two-way bruiser T.K. Edogi. Everyone in this quintet of Gaels are averaging in double figures.
Where the two teams start to differentiate themselves is the talent and star-power of Ponds and LoVett (he'll be on injury watch after missing the last three games), as well as St. John's success on defense. The Johnnies are doing very well on that end of the court. According to KenPom, the Red Storm is ranked 21st in defensive efficiency. They're one of the top 10 defensively from inside the arc and they also generate turnovers on 27.2 percent of possessions (third-highest in NCAA). Meanwhile, Iona can't say the same. It is ranked 213rd in defensive efficiency and doesn't cover the three-point line or generate turnovers all that well.
Blast From The Past
As mentioned earlier, this is about to be the first meeting between both teams in 22 years. Iona won the previous meeting, 70-57, in the opening round of the Chemical Bank Holiday Festival in 1995--which also happened to be at Madison Square Garden. At that time, the loss stung St. John's and it dropped it to an even .500 record. The Red Storm would go on to a disappointing 11-16 finish, and it would be the last season that then-head coach Brian Mahoney spent before retiring.
This is also the first time as a head coach that Tim Cluess will be going against St. John's--his former college. Cluess played from 1979-81 for his hometown team, before transferring--not too far away--to Hofstra. St. John's had stopped playing Iona just before he arrived on campus and the two wouldn't meet again until the 90s.
Cluess has made the rare--at least, nowadays--climb from high school to Division I college coach. He started out at high school powerhouse Saint Mary's, where he coached many players who went on to play college basketball--most notably, the San Antonio Spurs' Danny Green. From there, he coached at Suffolk County Community College (D-3) and LIU Post (D-2) before making the jump to Division I at Iona in 2010.
Defend This House
While Lovett is uncertain for Sunday's game against Iona--he's been out for the last three games due to a sprained left knee--the Red Storm can be happy with its return to a place it is familiar with after spending five of the last six games on the road. St. John's is currently undefeated at home this season, beating each opponent comfortably by double figures.
This will be St. John's first of five games at the Garden this season, not counting the Big East Tournament in March. After Iona, the Johnnies will play back-to-back games at Madison Square Garden in early January against Georgetown and Villanova. Then, they will play Duke on Feb. 3 to wrap up their non-conference slate. Their last game will come at the end of February versus Seton Hall in their penultimate home game of the regular season.
Last year, St. John's did pretty well at the Garden. It won four of its six games at the World's Most Famous Arena.