Edmond Sumner SO (6-6, 186) vs Marcus Lovett FR (6-0, 175)
Lovett is a playmaking point guard that is typically looking to score first, but he's a skilled passer that is more than capable of setting up his teammates. Like all of St. John's guards, he's shooting really well from the outside. The redshirt frosh has attempted the third-most 3-pointers on the team (64) and he's hitting them at a 42.2 percent clip while averaging 17.1 points, 3.8 assists, and 3.7 rebounds in 33.5 minutes per game. He's a decent defender but not very dedicated and can easily be taken advantage of on drives to the rim when he falls into a lull on that end of the court. Sumner needs to play the exact same way he did against Georgetown last Saturday when he poured in a career-high 28 points. He did so by being smart but also super aggressive in looking for his spots to attack off the bounce and draw fouls. He was 14-of-17 from the free throw line. He also had eight defensive rebounds and six assists in that game. He's averaging 15.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 3.1 turnovers in 33.8 minutes per game. This will be another good opportunity for him to show how much he's improved his defense from last year.
Slight Edge Xavier
JP Macura JR (6-5, 203) vs Shamorie Ponds FR (6-1, 170)
Ponds is a talented bucket-getting two-guard and the Red Storm's leading scorer. He's never met a shot he didn't like. He'll pull from absolutely anywhere regardless of how well he's being defended. That being said, he's also capable of making a lot of difficult shots and is shooting 40 percent from 3-point range on 115 attempts. Defensively, he's very active but also gambles a lot looking for steals. He's averaging a team-high 17.6 points per game to go with 5.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.9 steals in 33.1 minutes. Macura was outstanding last Saturday against Georgetown, posting 23 points (6-15 FG, 3-7 3PT) and six boards in 34 minutes. He's averaging 14.8 points (41.1% FG, 34.7% 3PT), 4.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.9 steals in 33.6 minutes per game. It'd be great for the Musketeers if he got on a roll offensively and started shooting the ball well, but his defensive effort is going to be the big key in this game. St. John's is likely going to test him off the bounce in isolations. I tend to doubt the coaches will have him guarding ponds.
Malcolm Bernard SR (6-6, 202) vs Malik Ellison SO (6-6, 215)
Ellison is an athletic wing with size and skill. He's the best passer in St. John's lineup right now. Over the last two games, he's racked up 15 assists compared to only one turnover. Nearly half of his shots (46) have come beyond the arc this year where he's shooting 39.1 percent, but he's more fun to watch when he's driving and using his size to score in the mid-range or at the rim. He's averaging 7.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.2 assists in 24.3 minutes per game. Bernard seems to be playing with more confidence and a higher comfort level in his role over the last three games. Best of all, he's making good decisions with the ball for the most part. He's averaging 5.6 points (37.8% FG, 38.1% 3PT) and 4.3 rebounds in 28.4 minutes per game. I would imagine he's better suited to guard Ponds than Macura so you might see those two switch this matchup on defense, but I'm interested to see what the staff decides to do on that end.
Slight Edge St. John's
Trevon Bluiett JR (6-6, 198) vs Bashir Ahmed JR (6-7, 210)
Ahmed is a long and athletic wing that plays very aggressively. He's not shy at all about jacking shots on offense and he does a good job of drawing fouls. That could be a key factor in this game if Bluiett is indeed matched up on him and he looks to attack and draw contact early. He's taken the second-most 3-point attempts on the team at 68 and is shooting 41.2 percent. He's averaging 12.6 points and 5.8 rebounds in 25.1 minutes per game. He's not very good at valuing possessions and he has a tendency to get out of control at times. He's averaging 2.8 turnovers and just 1.2 assists per game. Bluiett is coming off his lowest-scoring output ever since he's been at Xavier as he finished with just one point on 0-for-10 shooting from the field last Saturday. I would expect him to bounce back, especially with the Musketeers being back at home. He's averaging 17.9 points (42.3% FG, 33.7% 3PT), 5.9 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in 33.9 minutes per game.
Moderate Edge Xavier
RaShid Gaston SR (6-9, 239) vs Kasoum Yakwe SO (6-7, 210)
Yakwe is an athletic forward that doesn't really seem to have any type of role on this St. John's team. His points typically come off of dump-offs or hustle plays. He provides a bouncy shot-blocking presence on defense. He's averaging 4.1 points (44% FG), 3.9 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks in 20.6 minutes per game. Gaston didn't finish quite as well against Georgetown as he had been recently, but he still had a solid game with six points (3-7 FG) and nine boards. He's averaging 7.8 points and 6.8 rebounds in 19.7 minutes per game. Yakwe's length and athleticism could give him a little trouble finishing around the rim, but his overwhelming strength advantage and the extra opportunities he'll get on the offensive glass when Yakwe and others are attempting to block shots should far outweigh that.
Moderate Edge Xavier
Xavier Bench vs St. John's Bench
Sophomore Tariq Owens (6-11, 200) - is a long and athletic face-up forward that likes to operate in the short corner, typically looking for the mid-range jumper. Defensively, he has the seventh-highest block percentage in the country. He's averaging 5.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks in 18.1 minutes per game. Sophomore guard Federico Mussini (6-2, 170) has had one of the weirder starts to a career that I can remember. He went from being the focal point and point guard of St. John's offense last year to a sniper off the bench this year. He's playing 19.9 minutes per game and mostly just floats on the perimeter waiting to get a kick-out three at some point. He's 29-of-61 (47.5%) from deep and just 11-of-28 (39.3%) from inside the arc while averaging 9.3 points per game. Senior Darien Williams (6-8, 235) is another big athlete more so than he is a true post player. He has the highest defensive rebounding rate on the team. He's mostly out there for his rebounding and defense. He's averaging 3.5 points and 2.8 rebounds in 10 minutes per game. Junior big man Amar Alibegovic (6-9, 240) comes in to bang, foul, and eat some minutes while trying not to get abused. He's not much of a factor in any aspect of the game. He's averaging 1.4 points and 1.8 rebounds in 9.3 minutes per game. For Xavier, Quentin Goodin's athleticism and defensive ability could give him a slightly larger role in this game than usual. He only played seven minutes at Georgetown and missed both of his shot attempts. Also, Kaiser Gates' defensive ability could give him a few more minutes in this one, perhaps even at the five considering St. John's personnel. He's had his ups and downs since returning from his knee scope, but he's put in a lot of extra work on his own outside of practice to regain confidence and work out the kinks. Sean O'Mara has played well in each of the last two games. It will be interesting to see how he fits into this matchup. All the athleticism on the court may not be ideal for him, but at the same time the Johnnies' lack of size may give him a big advantage on the block.
Slight Edge St. John's
St. John's sits at 94th overall in the current KenPom rankings, while ranking 95th in the country in offensive efficiency and 109th in defensive efficiency. The Johnnies have attempted and made more 3-pointers than any other team in the Big East this season. If they aren't making threes, their offense can get pretty ugly. They run an NBA-style "Pace-and-Space" system that has four players creating motion along the perimeter and an open post with a forward setting screens for them. The goal is to set up isolation opportunities for their guards and wings, especially picking on who they see as a favorable matchup. They like to penetrate and kick to their spot-up shooters often, so keeping the ball in front and not forcing teammates to help off of shooters will be crucial for XU. On the defensive end, the Johnnies aren't a very disciplined unit. They play exclusively man-to-man. Xavier can get easy baskets if they play aggressively and smart, much like Sumner did at Georgetown. The use of ball fakes would be strongly recommended because of their desire to block shots, even on the perimeter. Also, they are a terrible rebounding team, so X should be able to gain an advantage in second chance points. St. John's is a scary team for the coaches to gameplan for because there just isn't a ton you can tell your players other than "do your job" and "be solid in our system." St. John's relies on its individual talents beating your individual talents one-on-one and making a lot of threes. As long as the Musketeers keep their defense tight and play with appropriate effort on the glass, they should be alright against the inconsistent Red Storm.
Predicted score: Xavier 86 St. John's 73