Jordan has recently been thrust into the starting point guard role for St. John's after providing a spark for the offense with his ability to get to the rim. He missed a game last week against Youngstown State to be with his sick mother, but was averaging 10.7 points, 4.7 boards and 4.0 assists over the three games prior to that one. He then returned and started against Columbia this past Saturday and scored seven points on 3-of-6 shooting with two rebounds, one assist, one steal and no turnovers. One of the big keys to the youngster's success has been his ability to take care of the basketball to this point. Davis has received high praise from Coach Mack for his play over the last few games. The light switch seems to have been flipped for the junior as he's settled into his role as a tough defender and a game manager on the offensive end. He's controlling the pace, making good decisions, helping feed Semaj in transition, and getting the ball to the bigs in position to score. The fact that he's been able to knockdown an open jumper or two to keep the defense honest has been a nice help as well. It will be interesting to see how the Musketeers' match-up against the Johnnies' three-guard lineup. Jordan has great size at the point, but isn't a shooter and relies on getting to the basket.
Semaj Christon So (6-3, 190) vs D'Angelo Harrison Jr (6-4, 204)
Harrison is the star of this St. John's team. He's a streaky shooter, but he's the one player on the Red Storm's roster that truly worries a defense because of his ability to get hot and make tough shots from anywhere in the gym. He's a flat-out bucket getter with a big frame for a guard. He's also improved his handling and passing ability each year that he's been in the program. He's done a great job of taking care of the basketball this year, and has also toned down his wild shot selection a bit. That restraint has led to a higher 3-point percentage at 35.4 percent currently, which is up from 31.5 percent last season. Harrison is averaging 19.5 points per game, and has reached double figures in every game so far this season. To a certain extent, you have to understand going into the game that he's going to get his points, and just try to make it as tough as possible on him to make him less efficient. Christon has taken a little bit of a backseat in terms of carrying the scoring load right now for Xavier on the offensive end. He hasn't finished some shots which has led to lower point totals, but he's also been a little less aggressive as others have helped step up on offense for the Musketeers. While his scoring production has lessened, the rest of his game has picked up a bit, as he's had really well-rounded performances in each of the last two games. Against Alabama and Wake Forest, he had big defensive plays, nine assists and only one turnover.
Justin Martin Jr (6-6, 205) vs Phil Greene IV Jr (6-2, 189)
Greene is the smallest out of the three guards in St. John's starting lineup, so he may draw Dee Davis or someone else on the defensive end, but his role seemed to be most similar to Martin's for Xavier. Greene's numbers make him look like a steady player. He averages just over nine points per game, just over two 3-point attempts, and two free-throw attempts. A deeper look shows that Greene's actually a streaky player. He's had some big games, such as his 16 point effort against Bucknell, 22 point effort against Monmouth and his 14 point effort against Penn State; he's also had five points or less in five of the 12 games this season. In his defense, he's done a good job of stepping up and having some of those big games when Harrison has struggled to hit shots. He's a 38.5 percent shooter from beyond the arc that chooses his spots wisely. He takes good care of the basketball, and usually waits for a good look to take his shot. Martin is coming off of a rough shooting performance against Wake Forest where he went 2-for-9 from the field, including 1-for-5 from 3-point range. He missed some wide open looks that would have helped the Musketeers put the game away sooner, but to his credit he didn't let that impact his effort. He finished with eight rebounds, one assist and only one turnover. He's also been solid on the defensive end. Xavier will need his length to help slow down St. John's long slashers, and also to put pressure on their wings on the glass. If he plays with a high motor like he did against Wake Forest, he can provide the Muskies with a boost whether he scores or not.
Slight Edge St. John's
Isaiah Philmore Sr (6-8, 237) vs Jakarr Sampson So (6-9, 214)
Sampson is a long and athletic face-up forward that can shoot the mid-range jumper or get to the rim off the dribble. He doesn't have much of a postgame, but he likes to get dump-offs where he can use his athleticism to finish at the rim, or offensive tip-ins. He's scored in double figures in each of the last six games. On the defensive end, Sampson doesn't defend the post well, but he does use his athleticism and length to block shots. Philmore followed up his 17-point effort at Alabama with a four-point game against Wake Forest on a 1-of-9 shooting performance. The senior played through the offensive struggles by hauling in four boards and playing physical defense. Sampson is more talented offensively and more gifted physically, but he doesn't play nearly as tough as Philmore and he has a tendency to take plays off. Philmore needs to bring the same approach he's brought the last few games inside against a St. John's team that lacks true post players and struggles against rugged physicality in the paint.
Slight Edge St. John's
Matt Stainbrook Jr (6-10, 263) vs Orlando Sanchez Sr (6-9, 232)
Sanchez is another long post player for the Johnnies that likes to face-up more than he truly plays in the post. He can get to the rim off the bounce and shoot from the mid-range (he'll even attempt the occasional three), and he's also a decent defender. He's not much of a scorer, but he's pretty solid everywhere else with few weaknesses in his game. The problem for St. John's is going to be similar to the issue Wake Forest faced - they lack a true post player to match-up with Stainbrook. Stainbrook has become the new focal point of the Musketeers' offense, as his usage rate creeps ever closer to Christon's. He's not only been able to score important buckets by overpowering the last three opponents that lacked a true post presence to defend him, but he's also helped the offense run smoothly with his vision and passing. Stainbrook has been dominant on the glass, tough on defense and consistent on offense in the last three big wins for the Musketeers. If he continues to play that way, it should give Xavier the advantage it needs to open up Big East play with a win, as St. John just really lacks an answer for a true center with low-post scoring skills.
Moderate Edge Xavier
Xavier Bench vs St. John's Bench
St. John's goes about 10 deep with a clear top eight rotation. Sir'Dominic Pointer, a 6-5 swing man, is the team's first option off the bench that averages starter-like minutes at 24.8 minutes per game. He's an energy guy with lockdown defensive abilities. Chris Obekpa, the 6-9, 240 pound sophomore big man, is the most intriguing option off the bench for the Johnnies. His length and absurd shot-blocking ability is likely their best bet to slow down Stainbrook, but he's just a decent defensive rebounder and a liability offensively. God's Gift Achiuwa is a strong 6-8, 230-pound forward who might see minutes to help bang against the Musketeers' bigs, but he's a very raw player who doesn't actually rebound or defend in the post very well, other than when he's blocking shots. Jamal Branch is an extra guard that doesn't offer much, but can provide minutes without a big drop off. Max Hooper is supposed to be a sharp-shooter off the bench (with an incredible basketball name), but he's struggled to actually get his shot off when he's gotten on the court. Xavier has two big weapons on the bench with James Farr and Myles Davis. Farr is developing into a consistent force on offense, while Davis has done a good job of stepping up and hitting big shots when the team seems to need it most. Both are legitimate 3-point threats that have earned a lot of minutes because of their ability to stretch the defense. In addition to those two, Brandon Randolph has provided quality minutes as another ballhandler and solid backcourt defender. Outside of the Crosstown Shootout, he hasn't proven to be much of a scoring threat yet, but there's not a drop-off when he's in the game either. Jalen Reynolds' athleticism may earn him a few more minutes in this game against a very long and athletic St. John's team, but his role has been pretty limited to this point in the season.
Slight Edge Xavier
This game will very much depend on what St. John's team shows up. If the Johnnies come into the Cintas Center with a focused approach on the defensive end, they could really make life difficult on Xavier when it comes to scoring. Defensively, the Red Storm are active and have used their length, athleticism and shot-blocking ability to hold opponents to 39.3 percent shooting, 38th best in the nation. Obekpa blocks a ridiculous one-fifth of opponents shots whenever he is on the floor, but he's a non-factor in most other facets of the game and Syracuse negated his shot-blocking ability by bullying him underneath. The issues for St. John's are very similar to the issues we've seen with Cincinnati, Alabama and Wake Forest - they can't shoot and they lack a true post presence. Thus, the game-plan remains the same for Xavier. The Musketeers have to be the tougher team on the glass, and they have to keep it tight on defense. If they pack it in and shrink the court, they should be able to stifle the St. John's offense. St. John's is more talented than some of those other teams mentioned, but they're also more inconsistent and unstable. If X can jump on top early in front of the home crowd, they may see their opponent fold.
Score Prediction: Xavier 72 St. John's 64