In St. John's three-guard lineup, Harrison is the biggest of the group and Rysheed Jordan plays the point guard position, but for the sake of this article he's matched against Dee Davis because it was such an important part of the first game between these teams. Harrison scored 21 points and got off for 4-of-5 from beyond the arc against the Musketeers' anemic 3-point defense, but he was just 7-of-20 from the field, including 3-for-15 from 2-point range. Davis bodied him up and wouldn't allow him to use his size and physicality to play bully ball and get into the lane for easy looks. Down the stretch of that game when the Red Storm was trying to come back, Davis thwarted multiple late-game takeover attempts by Harrison with great defense. It's a tough match-up defensively, because in addition to his size and strength, Harrison is a good shooter that takes and makes a lot of tough shots. He doesn't need much room to shoot, and he's capable of making shots with a hand in his face. Davis, along with the rest of the Musketeers, couldn't get a shot to go down early in the last meeting between these teams. He finished with nine points in that game on just 2-of-8 shooting from the field, including 0-for-3 from beyond the arc. Despite his struggles shooting, he contributed to a balanced offensive attack late in the first half and into the second half by penetrating against the Red Storm's zone and keeping the ball moving with his teammates. This match-up is going to be crucial to the Musketeers' success once again because Harrison is a ball dominant player that could really take advantage of X's weak 3-point defense. It's also important, because if the Red Storm play that same zone defense, Davis will be responsible (along with Christon) for initiating the Musketeers' offense and creating flow and scoring opportunities for his teammates.
Moderate Edge St. John's
Semaj Christon So (6-3, 190) vs Rysheed Jordan Fr (6-4, 185)
Jordan is no longer a freshman at this point in the year. He's played in 26 games and is averaging over 25 minutes per contest, plus his play has shown that he has the confidence to be a counted on contributor for St. John's during this stretch run. While he still turns the ball over a bit much, five times in the last game against Villanova, he's making plays at both ends of the court. He's attempted the third most shots on the team, and he's distributed his attempts pretty evenly between perimeter jumpers, mid-range shots and drives to the rim. He scored 17 against X last time, and was able to get to the free-throw line a lot. Christon really showed off his ability to make his teammates better against St. John's last time. He disrupted the zone defense by making quick, decisive drives into the gaps. He only scored 10 points, but he had eight assists and no turnovers. The Johnnies have the length and athleticism to deter him at the rim some, but their lack of discipline seemed to allow him to find his teammates for open looks. Christon only attempted nine shots in the last game between these teams and just five shots in X's last game at Georgetown. If X is struggling on the road the way it did on Saturday then he's going to have to be more aggressive, and be a leader that provides energy on the defensive end. He's been far from X's problem when they struggle on the road, but his team needs him to be the solution to getting back on track.
Slight Edge Xavier
Justin Martin Jr (6-6, 205) vs Phil Greene Jr (6-2, 189)
Greene is a small wing that tries to find space to get his looks on the offensive end. He's not a very aggressive player, but he's capable when he gets opportunities. He had five points on 2-of-6 shooting and did little else in the first meeting with Xavier. In the second half of Big East play he's continued to see his 3-point percentage rise all the way up to 42.1 percent. Over the last seven games, he's 9-for-17 from beyond the arc, so he's definitely another one to keep an eye on when X is on defense. Martin had a big second half in the last game between these teams and led the Musketeers with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting with six rebounds. Against Georgetown on Saturday he was a mixed bag between the player we saw the last two seasons and the player we've seen for much of this one. He scored 13 points and made 3-of-6 from 3-point range, but he also had three turnovers and had some moments on defense where he looked completely disengaged. His athleticism and ability to rebound is important in this game with all the athletes St. John's puts on the court, plus his offense is especially needed against teams that play an effective zone.
Slight Edge Xavier
Isaiah Philmore Sr (6-8, 237) vs Jakarr Sampson So (6-9, 214)
Sampson is incredibly talented and is a huge part of St. John's offense. He's never shy about looking for his shot, he's capable of scoring in several ways, and he's always one possession away from a huge momentum-building play for his team. As we saw when he was at the Cintas Center, though, he can also help shoot his team out of a game. The Musketeers did a good job of keeping the ball out of the paint and off the block, which forced Sampson to settle for lots of jump shots. He has good touch and is capable of going off for a big night, as he did a game ago against Butler when he scored 23 points on 11-of-15 shooting, but you're much better off if you're physical with him and keep him from gaining confidence with buckets and dunks around the rim. Philmore has struggled at times in the Big East, but the Georgetown game on Saturday might have been his roughest game yet as he played just 14 minutes and scored two points to go with two rebounds. It would seem that his lack of athleticism and length will be even more of an issue against this St. John's team, but last time he finished with 11 points and nine boards in 27 minutes, so it will be interesting to see how he fares.
Moderate Edge St. John's
Matt Stainbrook Jr (6-10, 263) vs Chris Obekpa So (6-9, 240)
Orlando Sanchez and God's Gift Achiuwa started with Sampson at the three the last time against X, but Achiuwa only played eight minutes, and this is the lineup that Steve Lavin has used the majority of the time over the last several games. Much was made of Obekpa's return from injury on Saturday in the game against Villanova. He started after it had been reported that he wouldn't likely be back for a couple of weeks. He wasn't all that productive, finishing with just one point and two rebounds, but his game isn't necessarily about production. He still made a difference on the defensive end by changing shots any time the Wildcats got into the lane. It's hard to measure his impact, but it's clear that he's a difference-maker on defense. Other than that, he's not a very complete player at this stage of his career. Last game against Xavier, he failed to score in 22 minutes of action and only attempted one shot but had five rebounds and four blocks. He especially seems to give Philmore and Stainbrook trouble with his length. Stainbrook scored nine points on 4-of-8 shooting and grabbed 10 boards last time against the Red Storm. The Musketeers didn't dominate the paint, but he helped them control it with his size and strength. While Xavier won the rebounding edge last time, 45-38, Stainbrook will need to focus on clearing boards on the defensive end after forcing a missed shot, as the Red Storm hauled in 18 offensive boards in that game. At this point, without knowing whether this team will show up or not on the road, they need Christon and Stainbrook to lead and energize the team.
Moderate Edge Xavier
Xavier Bench vs St. John's Bench
Achiuwa (6-8) and Sanchez (6-9) add to the size of the Red Storm, and will see more minutes than usual if Lavin opts to use a 2-3 zone again. In addition to those post players, 6-5 wing Sir'Dominic Pointer also adds length and athleticism to the lineup. Pointer has a lot of potential, but so far in his three-year career he's only managed to carve out a role as a defensive spark off of the bench. His best games are when he comes in and scores an efficient 8-10 points on five or less shots and grabs a handful of rebounds. The only other player that sees regular minutes is 6-3 junior guard Jamal Branch. His playing time is inconsistent, but a game ago against Butler he played 19 minutes and scored 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting with five assists and four boards. In just five minutes on the court in the first meeting, Jalen Reynolds showed that this was a favorable match-up for himself by scoring four points and grabbing a couple of boards. He enjoys the more open, athletic post style of Sampson in particular who he played with at Brewster. It'd be a surprise if he didn't see more than five minutes this time. Myles Davis struggled against St. John's at the Cintas Center, playing 18 scoreless minutes while struggling to keep up on defense. It will be interesting to see how many minutes he gets, and whether or not he can help bust the zone if they play it. On the flip side, Brandon Randolph had possibly his best Big East performance so far against St. John's. He scored seven points on 3-of-3 shooting from the field including, 1-of-1 from 3-point range, had two rebounds, an assist, and a steal in 12 minutes of action.
Slight Edge St. John's
St. John's is playing like a completely different team than the one we all saw at the Cintas Center on New Year's Eve. This is a team that has gone 8-2 in its last 10 Big East games, with the two losses coming by a combined six points to Creighton and Villanova, and the eight wins include a 70-65 victory at Madison Square Garden over Creighton and a 22-point win at MSG over Georgetown. Meanwhile, outside of beating a bad Butler team at Hinkle, Xavier hasn't given itself much of a chance to win on the road. The Musketeers have dug themselves big holes at Villanova, Marquette and most recently at Georgetown that they just couldn't overcome. The good news is they can add a top 50 RPI road win (their first of the season) against a team they've already beaten by 10, with home games against two teams that are now rated in the top 10 still ahead. The Musketeers have everything to gain or lose in these final weeks. The scary part for them is that they can play well and still lose to this St. John's team by 10 at MSG. The biggest keys will be keeping the Red Storm off the offensive glass and taking care of the basketball. The game against Georgetown was important, but this game is in many ways a last chance for X.
Score Prediction: St. John's 76 Xavier 68