St. John’s (2-0) At Rutgers (2-0)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: The RAC in Piscataway, New Jersey
Tip-off: Friday, November 16th at 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network - Cory Provus, play-by-play; Jon Crispin, analyst
Buy Tickets Here
Radio: Rutgers IMG Sports Network of WCTC 1450 AM/WOR 710 AM - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM - Justin Sontupe & Matt Howe
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #120; St. John’s #39
(Rutgers moved up 8 spots since win over Drexel)
KenPom Prediction: St. John’s 74 Rutgers 71 ; Rutgers has an 39% chance to win.
Vegas Line: St. John’s - 2.5
Series History: St. John’s leads the all-time series 27-14 and last met officially in 2015, a 61-59 loss for Rutgers.
Program Connections: There are two sets of players on either team that are former teammates. Peter Kiss and Mikey Dixon both played as freshman together at Quinnipiac, while Ron Harper Jr. and Marcellus Earlington starred together at Don Bosco Prep.
Notes: This game is part of the annual Gavitt Games between Big East & Big Ten. Through seven games so far, the Big Ten leads 5-2.
About St. John’s
Chris Mullin is in his fourth season at the helm of the Johnnies, with a record of 42-60. They were picked to finish in sixth place in the Big East in the preseason coaches poll. They are off to a 2-0 start with wins against Loyola (MD) and Bowling Green. This team plays an attacking style on both ends of the court, looking to get to the rim offensively and pressure the opposition defensively. In two games, they have 22 steals and are shooting respectably (45.4% 2-pt range, 35.6% 3-pt range, 66.7% FT line).
The Red Storm are led by a strong, attacking backcourt, highlighted by preseason Big East Player of the Year, Shamorie Ponds. He is averaging 20.5 points, 3.5 assists, 2.5 steals, and 2.0 rebounds in two games this season, including 17 of 30 shooting and 5 of 11 from three-point range.
He is ably backed by Mustapha Heron, Justin Simon and Marvin Clarke II. Heron is a former All-SEC player who transferred from Auburn and averaging 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, as well as 1.5 assists and steals in the early going. Simon is a versatile player averaging 9.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.5 steals. Clarke II is posting 10.0 points and 4.5 rebounds, but shooting just 6 of 19 from the floor so far. Other key players include LJ Figueroa (10.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.0 steals) and Mikey Dixon (7.5 points).
They are without big man Sedee Keita for the next 4-6 weeks due to a knee injury. While this will allow the Johnnies to put a more versatile, athletic team on the floor, they due lack size. It’s possible 6’9” freshman Josh Roberts will see more action in this game as well.
Pikiell on what to expect at the RAC tonight
“We got six newcomers, who will be ready to play. We have some time to prepare so I am excited. The guys will be excited. Hopefully the RAC is packed. Students can come out and make it a great environment, because I know these guys play better when we have those kinds of environment. That is what we are looking forward to, we will start preparing as soon as I get off the mic.”
Keys To Victory
Defend The Rim, Force Jump Shots
St. John’s will be looking to spread out the Rutgers defense in the halfcourt and take their man one on one to the rim, where they can utilize their quickness and athleticism to attack and generate high percentage shots. It will be interesting to see how Pikiell approaches things on the defensive end, but they have to find a way to limit dribble penetration. He was playing it straight earlier this week when he insisted they are a man to man team and won’t deviate from that. I would still be surprised if Rutgers doesn’t give some different looks to St. John’s in this game, even for just a possession or two at a time. Whether it’s trapping at midcourt, pressing fullcourt, or showing some type of zone, I’m expecting something. And regardless, Rutgers has to tighten up driving lanes and force St. John’s to settle for jump shots. They can fall into the trap of taking what is given and Rutgers would be served well to force St. John’s to beat them by making 15 footers throughout the game. They MUST get back in transition and not allow any easy baskets. The defense has been lacking in the first two games, so Rutgers needs to show improvement in this game if they want to win.
Ball Movement To Wear Down St. John’s & Get Open Looks
The Johnnies are going to give a lot of ball pressure and try to force Rutgers to rush on offense, which could lead to turnovers and bad shots. Geo Baker will have his biggest test by far as the point guard in that he has to survive that pressure and be effective in getting Rutgers into its halfcourt offense. The more that Rutgers is patient and sharing the basketball, the more it will force St. John’s to play defense deep into possessions, which will be a great benefit to them. Pikiell has stressed how improved passing has led to them making more shots. That needs to continue tonight and while they need to take fast break points when the opportunity presents itself, their offense is best when they move the ball in the halfcourt. This could also pay dividends in the last five minutes of the game, as St. John’s could wear down late after having to play defense longer then they’d like to.
Rutgers has made just 23 of 43 free throw attempts to start the season. Everyone has struggled except for Peter Kiss (4-5), Eugene Omoruyi (4-6) and Geo Baker (2-2). It’s too early to be concerned long term and I do think nerves and adjusting to the pace of the college game has been part of the issue for the newcomers. However, tonight Rutgers needs to step it up and make the freebies, which could mean the difference between winning and losing in this game. Another key is getting guys like Kiss, Omoruyi, and Baker to the line more frequently in this contest, especially down the stretch.
The game within the game that I’ll be watching for is the chess match between Pikiell and Mullin. Both teams have versatile, athletic players with the ability to mix and match their rotations. How Rutgers defends, especially Ponds and Heron, will be a big factor and certain moves will force Mullin to adjust. Will St. John’s stick to a small lineup without Keita and if so, does Pikiell counter with a bigger lineup to create mismatches in the frontcourt? Does St. John’s bring pressue fullcourt and trap often, forcing Pikiell to stay with a smaller lineup? How will each coach utilize their bench? There are a lot of questions in this game and the answers will play a big part in the final outcome.
Play Within Themselves
Rutgers needs to maintain its composure in what will be the most intense game environment some of the players will have ever experienced so far in their careers. They need to handle the pressure from the St. John’s guards and not rush because of it. They can’t get caught up in the energy by forcing bad shots. They need to have poise and stick to the game plan. The leadership and experience of Shaq Doorson, Omoruyi and Baker is hugely important in this game. If Rutgers falls behind early, those players know what it takes to keep grinding and fight their way back. I expect this game to be an up and down affair. The team that maintains focus and plays best together will win the game.
In The Bonus
The RAC will hopefully be sold out once the game tips off, but even if it falls just shy, it should be a raucous atmosphere for this game. Fans needs to bring it and give Rutgers an edge on the court. St. John’s is playing it’s first road game this season and they will need to handle the environment if it’s a close contest. This is the first big game of the season for both teams and should be a fun one to watch. Hopefully, Rutgers can show improvement on defense, while not experiencing too much of a drop-off after an incredible start to the season shooting wise. Either way, this game will benefit Rutgers for the rigors of the Big Ten and give this young team valuable experience under the lights.
“St. John’s is a talented team all around, they’ve got good players. They’re a veteran team. This is the most athletic team we could face all year. We have to take care of the ball. This is a great test for us early with our young team. Hopefully it will be a great environment here at the RAC. I hope our fans come out and support. We like it when the place is loud, it gives us a home court advantage. It’s an old rivalry matchup. We want this place to be a tough place to play, and we need it rocking Friday.” - Steve Pikiell
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