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The St. John’s Red Storm (16-5) could pick up one of the biggest wins of any college basketball team this season as they head to Cameron Indoor Stadium to face the Duke Blue Devils (18-2)..
It won’t be easy, as Duke has two of the nation’s best players in Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. The Blue Devils also haven’t lost a home nonconference game since 2000, also to St. John’s. Duke’s streak of 146 straight home nonconference wins is the best in the nation.
The Blue Devils aren’t unbeatable, though. Gonzaga and Syracuse have shown us that this season, and St. John’s beat them just last year behind 33 points from Shamorie Ponds at Madison Square Garden. That St. John’s team came into the game on an 11-game losing streak before capturing magic and knocking off the Blue Devils.
This Duke team is a little different, though. Williamson and Barrett are one of the best freshman duos in college basketball history. Williamson has nine 25+ point games this year (most of any freshman in Duke history) and Barrett has eight such games (second-most of any freshman in Duke history). There’s no shortage of superlatives for the pair, but it’s also important to remember Duke’s other freshman standouts, Tre Jones and Cam Reddish.
If you go back and look at the Duke teams that have won the NCAA Championship, strong point guard play has been a theme. Jones is no different, as he takes exceptional care of the basketball (five turnovers in his last five games), knows his role, and excels at making smart plays. Reddish averages 12 points and two steals per game.
All of this is a long way of saying something you already know: Duke is a very talented team.
St. John’s is talented, as well, but it will need to be a collaborative effort instead of just Ponds leading the way. Mustapha Heron has been great, but his three-point shooting has been down a bit since conference play began. Three-point shooting could very well be the biggest thing that could keep St. John’s in this game. The Red Storm shoot 38.5% from long-range, 25th best in the nation. The Blue Devils shoot just 31.1% from deep. If the three starts falling early for St. John’s, Duke could have a real problem getting back into the game.