St. John’s (4-0) heads into the Legends Classic championship game after an exciting win over the California Golden Bears in the opening round. The Red Storm will take on VCU (4-0), who beat Temple, 57-51, on Monday night.
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KenPom names St. John’s a 73 percent favorite to win, predicting a final score of 78-71.
Tuesday night marks just the second all-time meeting between both teams. The Rams won the previous meeting back in November 2016, winning 75-69.
What to Watch For
VCU was first put on the map as the first-ever First Four team to find such great success in the NCAA Tournament in 2011. Shaka Smart and his patented ‘Havoc’ defense swept the nation and became well-associated with VCU during his time there. Smart is no longer there, and since his departure, there has been two different head coaches. Will Wade coached for two years, enjoying two 25-win seasons and a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances, before going on to coach at LSU. Now, there is second-year head coach Mike Rhoades, who was a former associate head coach under Smart for five years during VCU’s college basketball breakthrough.
His debut season was an adjustment period. VCU missed the NCAA Tournament, and the feisty defense wasn’t apparent. The Rams were average to subpar in nearly every statistical category. However, this year, things seem to be back on the right track. Rhoades has implemented his own brand of ‘havoc’ and things are going well again, as VCU is looking like a defensive juggernaut in this fledgling season.
According to KenPom, the Rams are top-50 in defensive efficiency. They have frustrated opponents and disrupted them with their hard-nosed defense, holding opponents to an effective field goal percentage of 37.4 (fifth-best in the country). VCU has also been able to generate turnovers at a high rate, doing so on 27.2 percent of opponents’ possessions (seventh in the country). It has also shut down production from long range, limiting its foes to just 22.8 percent from beyond the arc (10th-best in the country).
In an ugly game, VCU will trust its defense, even if an opponent is seemingly able to break past it for a moment--that success has been temporary. Temple’s demise was rooted in its 14 turnovers and an ice-cold shooting performance down the stretch. In the crucial closing minutes of the game, the Owls were scoreless for the final 2:47 of the game, and they made only one of their final 10 shot takes.
It’s a party on defense, but nap time on offense
VCU might frustrate St. John’s defensively. Don’t be surprised if the Johnnies hit a wall at some point against the Rams on Tuesday night. However, as good as VCU is on defense, it can’t say the same for offense.
Outside of Marcus Evans--and possibly Isaac Vann--the Rams are pretty inconsistent when it comes to scoring the ball. There isn’t much production to go around, especially from every one not named Evans.
According to KenPom, VCU is 213th in offensive efficiency and has a mediocre effective field goal percentage of 47.5 percent--which includes an ugly 28.3 percent mark from beyond the arc.
Despite how well Evans might be scoring as of late, he also has his flaws. He’s pretty turnover-prone--which is an issue that’s been plaguing VCU so far this season. Against Temple, he turned the ball over on six different occasions. So, aside from frequent cold spells, the Rams don’t take great care of the ball. That’s part of the reason why Temple was able to comeback after spotting VCU a 19-2 run to start the game.
The Rams turned the ball over 20 times against the Owls. So far this season, they have a relatively high turnover rate of 24.1 percent of possessions. With the way St. John’s is able to be a threat in transition, this could be problematic for VCU. For the Rams, taking care of the ball is integral to their chances of winning.
An early season test of offense vs. defense
Both teams are feeling good right now, with perfect 4-0 records. Unfortunately, someone is going to have to lose. This could be the first true test for each team’s specialty.
St. John’s, behind the leadership of Shamorie Ponds and a few other dangerous scorers, has excelled offensively so far. If the Johnnies continue playing at the level they are executing on, this team will be the most efficient Red Storm squad at scoring the ball in over 15 years. Ponds has been a machine and has made the difficult shots look easy. Can he go off against VCU’s ‘Havoc’? If not--while he’s gotten nice complementary scoring performances from his teammates--can other people step up? VCU will frustrate St. John’s offensively like no other.
On the other side of things, can this defense contain Ponds and mask the Rams’ plaguing issues on offense? Evans and Vann have been machines on this end of the court, key two-way guys that get VCU going defensively. St. John’s has yet to face a defense like this, is it up for the challenge?