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St. John’s heads west for biggest test yet vs. Arizona

It’s going to be all hands on deck as St. John’s looks to pull off the upset. Well not ALL hands. Maybe all hands. We’ll see.

Photo: Mark Lennihan, AP

St. John’s Red Storm vs. #16 Arizona Wildcats

When: Saturday, December 21st @7PM (PST) 10PM (EST)

Where: The Chase Center in San Francisco, CA

Records: St. John’s 10-2 (91 KenPom, 69 NET) #16 Arizona 10-2 (14 KenPom, 14 NET)

Television: ESPN 2

Stream: WatchESPN


GAME PREVIEW

Mike Anderson’s Red Storm team comes in having won six in a row but they’ve yet to face an opponent of Arizona’s pedigree. It’s a big opportunity to go across the country (although it not a true road game since it’s in San Fran) and steal a signature win against a Top 20 team. This is the type of game that gets a bubble team into the tournament come Selection Sunday.

It’s also the type of high-profile win that would put the college hoops world on notice that Mike Anderson and St. John’s are for real. Aside from a gutsy win over #25 West Virginia, this team has gorged themselves on cupcakes. A win here would be a statement that they were underestimated and overlooked.

Here’s What’s Been Going On

Sean Miller’s Arizona Wildcats have had a week to recover from their 84-80 loss to then #6 Gonzaga. It was their 2nd loss of the season with the only other coming a couple of weeks ago against a very good Baylor team. The Wildcats have a high-powered offense that averages the 5th most points in the country (85.1 ppg) and are led by a trio of freshman in Nico Mannion (14.3 ppg, 6.5 apg), Zeke Nnaji (15.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and Josh Green (13.3 ppg, 5 rpg.) It’s a fantastic class that should help Sean Miller contend for the Pac12 title this season. The only player ruled out for the St. John’s game is reserve forward Stone Gettings as he continues to recover from a facial fracture.

St. John’s is coming off a stellar defensive effort against Albany that they will need to replicate if they plan on hanging with Arizona. The big story for the Johnnies however is the ankle of Mustapha Heron. The star senior rolled it against Brown and sat for the Albany game. Although he flew out west with the team, it’s still unclear if he’ll give it a go. Anderson said it would most likely be a game-time decision. Heron being unavailable would put a significant dent in St. John’s chances, as they’ll need as many weapons as possible to counter the prolific Arizona offense. Another point of interest for Johnnie fans is the much-anticipated debut of Ian Steere who was required to sit out the fall semester after transferring from NC State. Steere only played 5 minutes in one appearance for the Wolfpack but at 6’9 240lbs with an intriguing offensive skillset, he should provide another big body Anderson can plug into the frontcourt rotation.

So How Does St. John’s Win This?

This game is all about the battle between St. John’s tough rebounding, full court pressure defense and Arizona’s hot-shooting, high scoring offense. The Johnnies need to keep the same effort and intensity on the defensive end that has made the season a pleasant surprise thus far. The Red Storm will need to find a way to rattle Mannion into turnovers and limit the long, energetic Nnaji if they’re going to pull off the upset. John’s bench has been really good and what was initially thought of as a weakness coming into the year has become a strength. Without Heron, they’ll need to take it up another notch. They’ll also need a big performance from LJ Figueroa who is coming off a dismal shooting performance in the Albany game. No Heron and an ineffective Figueroa is a dangerous combination for SJU. He has a knack for showing up in big games though so I’d keep my eye on him if I were Sean Miller. It’s a tough one for the Johnnies but this team plays hard and after watching what Seton Hall just pulled off against Maryland without their two best players, I’m more open-minded than usual.

Prediction

Mike Anderson continues to get maximum effort out of his guys but the talent on Arizona is just a cut above what the Red Storm can handle right now. 76-66 Wildcats.