The Red Storm comes to Pauley Pavilion today - a team UCLA should easily beat, which is ominous. But even with UCLA's recent past history in mind, St. John's still just doesn't have the horses to beat the Bruins...
Here's the dilemma: UCLA plays a team in St. John's they definitely should beat. They have more talent. St. John's doesn't have anyone over 6-7 that gets playing time. St. John's plays the playground type of game that UCLA likes to play and St. John's doesn't play good defense. It's at home in Pauley Pavilion. So, UCLA should win, but in this season, with the way the team has played, it's difficult to pick them to win. So, what do you do?
In analyzing the game on paper, or after having watched St. John's play this season, the Red Storm truly is a team made for UCLA to beat.
UCLA is really at a disadvantage, as its shown this year, against a team that has a strong inside player. St. John's doesn't. Their most reasonable facsimile is only 6-5, senior forward Anthony Glover. He's averaging just 10 points and is only a factor since the Red Storm are so lacking of any real inside players. Also on the frontline is 6-7 junior forward Kyle Cuffe, who isn't much of a big inside presence himself. Both he and Glover have actually been out-rebounded on the team by a guard (Marcus Hatten), with Glover averaging 6.1 and Cuffe 5.3 a game (Hatten averages 6.6 per game). Cuffe doesn't score much either (8.7 a game, while averaging 27 minutes). More or less, Glover and Cuffe are just bodies in there that St. John's is desperate to have, and they provide them their only bit of interior defense to speak of.
UCLA has been at a disadvantage against a team that shoots really well from the outside. St. John's ain't it. St. John's is shooting 42% from the floor, which ties them for 11th in the Big East. They're shooting a dismal 32% from three, which is a dismal 12th in the Big East. Their leading scorer, 6-1 senior guard Marcus Hattan, has made one three-pointer in his last five games.
UCLA has been at a disadvantage against a team that can penetrate well, as USC did Wednesday night. St. John's best penetrator is just a freshman, 5-11 lead guard Elijah Ingram. Ingram is also probably their best outside shooter, shooting 42% from three. So if you sag off him, he'll pull up. But he's prone to freshman mistakes, making as many turnovers as assists, and is only an adequate ballhandler.
UCLA has been been prone against a team that plays a slow-down, deliberate-style in their half-court offense. That's not St. John's. They shoot too much and too early in the shot clock. They also don't rebound very well, and thus don't get a lot of second chances.
The Bruins have also been hurt by a team that plays aggressive defense and can get out on UCLA's shooters. St. John's isn't a great defensive team. Opponents are shooting 44% from the field against them, which ranks them 13th in the Big East.
St. John's is also probably the thinnest team UCLA has faced all season. Their five starters play almost all of their minutes. Hattan commonly plays 38 minutes a game.
St. John's does have a big-time scorer in Hatten. Hatten, who led the Big East in scoring a year ago as the lead guard, has moved over to the two-guard position and is averaging 22 points a game, without really shooting the ball very well. He's a slasher and scorer, and gets a great deal of his points in transition and going one-on-one. He's the type of player that comes to Pauley and for some reason he'll have a career day (but hopefuly now that we mentioned that it jinxed him). Both Hatten and Ingram do all the offensive damage for the team in transition. Hopefully it won't be Farmer/Craven redux.
St. John's does play hard, relatively speaking, and they've actually over-achieved so far this season given the lack of talent they have. They're currently 7-4, and their 4 losses have come against some pretty respectable teams (North Carolina and undefeated Wake Forest, as well as good Providence and Manhattan teams) that they played close. But they haven't beaten anyone of note.
Looking at this game on paper, or just having watched St. John's play so far this season, there is no reason to believe that UCLA should lose. But then there are factors that could possibly contribute to the game's outcome that you can't find on paper. Still, though, picking the Red Storm is betting on UCLA to play way below its capability. To many that might not be a tough bet. Obviously they've done it quite often this season. But in this case, there are just too many factors that give them the edge here, despite their under-achieving track record.
St. John's 74