The St. John's Red Storm (9-2) tips off the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase against the Saint Joseph's Hawks (5-5) in the opening game of the Wednesday doubleheader at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. Fellow Big East team Providence will take on Houston in the closing game afterwards.
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The Johnnies are listed as a 6.5-point favorite, according to Oddsshark.com.
KenPom lists St. John's as a 73 percent favorite to win on Wednesday afternoon, predicting a final score of 78-71.
The Red Storm has dominated its series with the Hawks, leading 44-12. St. John's has won 15 of its last 16 meetings with St. Joseph's, including eight-straight victories coming into Wednesday's game.
What to Watch For
Blend of Old and New
In light of a couple of injuries to key players that have been hampering this St. Joe's squad, the Hawks have been carried by their two seniors--Shavar Newkirk and James Demery. They both became full-time starters last year, after mainly playing off the bench during the Hawks' prominent 2015-16 season, when St. Joe's won the Atlantic-10 title and was a 28-win team thanks to a group of veterans led by NBA Draftee DeAndre Bembry. Newkirk was not immune to the injury bug that has plagued St. Joe's since last season, getting his junior season cut short with an ACL tear. He's healthy and leading the team with 16.9 points per game. He's not shooting as efficiently the floor as he did last season, only knocking down 35.3 percent of his shots (11 percent drop from 2016-17) and a subpar 31.0 percent from deep. As for Demery, he's a two-way interior presence. The 6-foot-6 forward is averaging 16.8 points per game, while shooting 45.4 percent. On the other end of the court, he's also one of St. Joe's better defenders, able to D-up at the perimeter against bigger wings or rumble inside.
With another top scorer, Lamarr Kimble, injured, the Hawks have been scrambling for production. A pre-season wrist injury that has still been lingering for Charlie Brown, has head coach Phil Martelli looking in other directions. So far, it appears that the Hawks have found that third scoring threat in freshman Taylor Funk. The Manheim, Pa. native has been a nice surprise for the Hawks. He's hit the ground running, averaging 14.2 points and shooting a team-best 47.7 percent from long range. The 6-9 freshman forward is the only true three-point threat for St. Joe's.
The Hawks might be 5-5, but they're the best at taking care of the ball. According to KenPom, St. Joe's has turned the ball over on just 12.1 percent of possessions--the best in the country. The Hawks also don't give up that many steals, only 5.5 percent of possessions have been swiped away, the third-best in the country. Even against Villanova, who blew the Hawks out by 41 points, St. Joe's only turned the ball over 10 times.
Going against the Hawks, is a Red Storm team that's one of the best in the country when it comes to defense. The Red Storm is ranked 16th overall in defensive efficiency, the second highest in the Big East (trailing ninth place Villanova). One aspect St. John's does so well with its quick, athletic squad is generate turnovers and disorient shooting teams. The Red Storm has the third-highest turnover rate, forcing opponents to cough the ball up on 26.8 percent of possessions. Even if teams aren't going to give up the ball, St. John's doesn't make it easy with its shot blockers down low, serving as the last line of defense. The Red Storm has held opponents to shooting 40.6 percent inside the arc (sixth-best in the country). For a St. Joe's team that doesn't shoot well from deep that could be problematic.
Chris Mullin's squad is coming off of a quick turnaround, after taking down Iona on Sunday. The Gaels were a team not known to turn the ball over, despite that, they lost the ball an uncharacteristic 16 times. St. Joe's will have to be particularly careful, especially with how well St. John's does in transition--steals will lead to easy buckets on fast breaks.
St. John's is shooting a subpar 33.8 percent from beyond the arc. The absence of Marcus LoVett, the Johnnies' top sharpshooter that has been out with injury, has been stopping the Red Storm from being a threat from deep. While it isn't exactly the best or even average from shooting at the perimeter, the fact that St. John's didn't drain a single three-pointer in Sunday's game vs. Iona is just unacceptable. It also seems like something that can't happen again. Top scorer Shamorie Ponds didn't make any of his five takes from long range.
While it's impressive that St. John's has been going far with its defense leading the way, it's also unlikely that the Red Storm remain silent from deep.