#11 Butler @ St. John’s
When: Tuesday, December 31st @ 7:30 PM (EST)
Where: Carnesecca Arena in Queens, NY
Records/Rankings: #11 Butler 12-1 (7 KenPom, 4 NET) St. John’s 11-2 (80 KenPom, 49 NET)
Stream: Fox Sports Go
Butler comes in as one of the best teams in the nation with a 12-1 record, the only loss being a 1-point squeaker on the road at then #11 Baylor. Meanwhile, St. John’s is riding a 7-game win streak, the most recent of which was an upset of then #16 Arizona. Both have outperformed expectations but who will keep the good times rolling? The Big East has enjoyed a successful non-con portion of the schedule for the majority of its teams (We’ll keep you in our prayers, Providence. Get well soon) but now conference play begins. And with that comes the league’s annual cannibalizing of one another. Time to find out who is for real.
Here’s What’s Been Going On
LaVall Jordan has Butler playing fantastic basketball and Hinkle has been a nonstop party so far. They’re near the top of every reputable metric and although they haven’t beaten a ranked opponent yet, the Bulldogs have played a nice schedule and taken advantage of the opportunities in front of them by going 6-1 against schools from Power 5 conferences (yes, I also hate the term “Power 5” being used in basketball but here I am being part of the problem) By now, Big East fans are familiar with their senior leader Kamar Baldwin who is having another strong season (despite coming off a poor performance last time out) and leads Butler with 14 ppg. Another senior, Sean McDermott has been having the best year of his career and is shooting effectively from all over the floor. If you leave him open near the 3pt line, you’d better pray to your deity of choice. Butler is just a good, old-fashioned, fundamentally sound basketball team and they deserve the moment in the spotlight that they’re currently enjoying.
Although they’re yet to reach Butler-levels of hype, the Johnnies have quietly had a nice start to the season themselves. They haven’t lost since a 2nd half collapse against Arizona State over a month ago and along the way have beaten two ranked teams: the previously mentioned Arizona as well as a tough West Virginia squad. St. John’s is quickly earning a reputation as one of the most frustrating teams to play against. Although they don’t have over-whelming size, they rebound at a relentless pace and Coach Mike Anderson’s trademark pressure defense has led to them being among the top 20 Division I teams in both steals and turnovers forced. One thing to keep an eye on leading up to this game is the status of star-guard Mustapha Heron who has missed the last two games after rolling his ankle. With 10 days off since their last game, there’s hope that Heron will be ready to go for this one but no official word has come out of Queens, yet.
Fast or Slow?
This one is all about pace. A fast, frantic St. John’s team will try to speed up the game by forcing turnovers, pushing the ball and scoring in transition. The methodical and disciplined Bulldogs will try to slow the game down and limit the number of possessions each team has by keeping things in the half court. Whoever is able to dictate the pace, probably wins here.
If the game gets sped up it’s a big advantage for the Johnnies. St. John’s is a well-conditioned team and (surprisingly) one of the deepest in the conference. Anderson plays all of his scholarship guys and shuttles them in and out all game long. To highlight the point, the Johnnies leading scorer LJ Figueroa averages the most minutes at 27.9 per game. Butler is currently playing 4 guys who average above 28 minutes. If it’s back and forth down the stretch and little Carnesecca Arena is rocking, the Johnnies will have a good chance of pulling off the upset.
If the game is slowed down, Butler should leave with a win. The Bulldogs are just a much more efficient offensive team than St. John’s. They shoot well inside, outside and from the free throw line. St. John’s doesn’t shoot well but has found success by imposing their style of play onto opponents. If Butler takes care of the ball and plays the way they want to, St. John’s is capable of shooting themselves right out of the game. Perhaps even more capable if Heron isn’t available.
Butler has a couple of upperclassmen capable of handling the ball and dealing with the St. John’s pressure. I trust them more than I trust the Johnnies suspect shooting. Butler keeps up its stellar play with a hard fought road win. Let’s say 70-62, Bulldogs.