In the words of Ed Cooley, there’s something about playing at Madison Square Garden on a Saturday. The Friars (18-6, 10-3) will look for the season sweep against a St. John’s (14-11, 4-10) team that is really reeling. The Johnnies are coming off a game they choked away at Butler and have lost three straight.
There are conflicting reports around the program on whether or not head coach Mike Anderson would return next season. The program certainly seems to be in peril, but this team gave the Friars all they could handle at the game in Providence back in January.
For the Friars it’s an important road contest as the race for the Big East crown comes down to the wire. With a win the Friars at the very least will keep pace with Xavier at Butler and Marquette at Georgetown this weekend. So let’s dive in.
Game 1 Preview and Recap
Pace of Play- The Johnnies have always played at a quick tempo under Mike Anderson, and this year is no different. St. John’s ranks 3rd in the nation in KenPom’s adjusted tempo, which should come as no surprise. Steve Lappas was blown away on the Friars ability to score in transition against Georgetown. Yes Steve, the Friars can get effective offense on the break because they have the guards and athletes to do it. In this game, however, they don’t want to play into SJ’s hand and play a fast paced game. The Friars are at their best when they work their offense in the half court, while picking their spots on when to push the pace. In the first matchup it was a fast paced game, but the Friars were missing their floor general Jared Bynum. It will be really interesting to see the pace of this game.
Emergence of AJ Storr- In the first matchup against the Friars, freshman AJ Storr scored 5 points on 14 minutes of play. Since that game he’s seen an increase in playing time and emerging as another weapon for the Johnnies. He’s scored in double figures in 6 of the last 8 games, averaging 12.3 ppg during that time. He’s someone that Cooley and staff will have higher on their scouting report than the first time around. He has the ability to fill it up offensively, and Providence cannot take him lightly.
Control the Glass- In the first matchup, the Friars and Red Storm broke even on the boards. Unusually for the Friars, they did allow Saint John’s to have a +3 margin in offensive rebounds. The Johnnies aren’t a great shooting team but you can’t allow them multiple opportunities to score. The battle between Croswell and Soriano will surely go along way in deciding this one.
Return of Bynum – Bynum missed the first game, which may be why the game was so tight at home. He’s a perfect fit in this type of game where the Johnnies press and are ultra aggressive on defense. He can slice and dice this St. John’s team with the right approach. He’s going to have a big game. I’m calling it.
Pierre’s Role in this Game – Andre Curbelo was very effective in Game 1. I would anticipate Cooley to put Pierre on him to slow him down. Pierre was excellent against Georgetown and can absolutely blanket Curbelo and limit his effectiveness.
Make St. John’s Play Interior Defense – The Johnnies are flashy with steals and pressing, but when push comes to shove they have trouble guarding the dribble drive and attack at the glass. I’d like to see Cooley have his Friar team impose their will in this type of play style.
This is a game the Friars should certainly win. From my perspective, the Johnnies will either rally around from a return of David Jones and having their backs against the wall and make this a game. If not, they’ll fold quickly.
At the risk of being dramatic, this is the type of road game that the Friars should “steal” if they are serious about winning the Big East. A loss here, and we are talking more about positioning ourselves for Big East and NCAA Tournament seeding moving forward. A win here, and it significantly increases the odds of a repeat.
We’ll find out Saturday at noon on Fox.
BOC: PC 80 – St. John’s 73. I feel like this game will be comfortably in PC’s hands the entirety of the game.