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. He put on a show at the Cintas Center in the Johnnies' loss to the Musketeers earlier this month. He finished with 32 points on 10-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-7 from 3-point range, with five rebounds, three assists, and six turnovers in 32 minutes. He's averaging 17.2 points (47.7% FG, 41.5% 3PT), 3.6 assists, and 3.4 rebounds in 32.8 minutes per game. Sumner battled through another effort at Cincinnati in which he was clearly not himself due to his shoulder injury. Last time against St. John's, he was a problem, finishing with 20 points (8-12 FG), seven assists, and five boards. With the way St. John's struggles to play team defense, Sumner is Xavier's best weapon in this game, but the Musketeers will likely need to find someone else to rely on for this one.
Slight Edge St. John's
JP Macura JR (6-5, 203) vs Shamorie Ponds FR (6-1, 170)
Ponds is a talented bucket-getting two-guard. He's never met a shot he didn't like. He'll pull from absolutely anywhere regardless of how well he's being defended. He finished with 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting, including 3-of-8 from deep, with seven rebounds, five assists, and one turnover in 34 minutes in the last game against Xavier. He's averaging 17 points (44.4% FG, 39.3% 3PT), 4.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.8 steals in 33.5 minutes per game. Macura started out hot in the Crosstown Shootout but struggled down the stretch to make shots and good decisions. He scored 14 points last time out against St. John's while going 5-of-11 from the field and 0-for-3 from deep. With the rest of the season being up in the air for Sumner, XU would really like to see Macura step up and start to play better. His production will likely be an important factor in this game for Xavier.
Slight Edge Xavier
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. He wasn't much of a factor in the first game against the Musketeers. He scored six points on 1-of-3 shooting (4-6 FTs) with six rebounds, one assist, and two turnovers in 19 minutes at the Cintas Center. He's averaging 8.5 points (46.4% FG, 41.7% 3PT), 3.3 rebounds, and 2.8 assists in 25.1 minutes per game. Bernard totally outplayed him in that first game as he finished with 10 points on 4-for-4 shooting, three assists, two boards, and a turnover in 21 minutes. With all the driving lanes St. John's allows, look for Bernard to be a little more aggressive in looking to make plays for himself and his teammates.
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. He finished with 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting in the game at Cintas. He also had four rebounds, all of them on the offensive end. He's averaging 12.7 points (37.9% FG, 37.3% 3PT) and 5.5 rebounds in 26.3 minutes per game. Bluiett is coming off one of the most memorable performances in Xavier history, despite the fact that the Musketeers lost to Cincinnati. He didn't play great last game against St. John's, but he did play unselfish and kept the ball moving on a day when Xavier's offense was balanced and clicking. It will be interesting to see if he's able to keep his shooting rhythm from Cincinnati going at all and gets on a hot streak for a few games.
Moderate Edge Xavier
RaShid Gaston SR (6-9, 239) vs Kasoum Yakwe (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 shotblocking presence on defense. He didn't score and was 0-for-2 from the field with two rebounds, two assists, and two blocks in 21 minutes against XU the first time around and the Johnnies didn't have anyone that was able to step in and play better. Gaston really struggled against Cincinnati and he was in foul trouble last time against St. John's, only playing seven minutes and finishing with two points and two turnovers. We'll find out today whether the Johnnies' smaller and quicker post players are a problem matchup for him or if he just happened to pick up fouls in that first game. He needs a strong bounce back performance.
Slight 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's a shotblocker. He finished with six points (3-5 FG), four rebounds, and a block in 22 minutes of action in the first game against Xavier. Sophomore guard Federico Mussini (6-2, 170) had three points in the first matchup between these teams. He was 1-for-6 from the field and 1-for-5 from deep. He's basically just a spot-up shooter at this point in his career. Senior Darien Williams (6-8, 235) is a big athlete more so than he is a true post player. He's mostly out there for his rebounding and defense. He played 11 minutes and finished 1-for-5 from the field with two points and no boards in the first game against X. Junior big man Amar Alibegovic (6-9, 240) comes in to eat up fouls and rebound. He played 10 minutes against X last time around and finished with two points and six boards. Xavier's bench is an interesting storyline for this one. Tyrique Jones was the only big man that didn't get completely abused by UC. We'll see if that expands his role for this one. He played 18 minutes in the first game against St. John's and had 10 points (3-6 FG), five boards, and two blocks, so it seems like this is a good matchup for him. Also, Quentin Goodin played his best game of the year the first time around against the Johnnies as he finished with four points (1-2 FG), three assists, three rebounds, two steals, and no turnovers. Keep an eye on Kaiser Gates as well. He got loose a bunch of times in the first game against St. John's, often on pick-and-pops, and nailed 4-of-6 from 3-point range to finish with 17 points and five rebounds.
Slight Edge St. John's
St. John's sits at 106th overall in the current KenPom rankings while ranking 91st in offensive efficiency and 142nd in defensive efficiency. That defensive number has dropped big-time since Big East play started. Nothing has really changed about the Johnnies' offensive attack. They're still attempting a ton of 3-pointers and if they aren't making threes, their offense really struggles. 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 is the key for XU. Last game, the Musketeers did an excellent job of challenging shots one-on-one while not getting out of position, which kept the lane clogged. On the defensive end, St. John's plays exclusively man-to-man and pressures the ball well. However, they do a terrible job of staying tight and helping each other when someone gets beat off the bounce. If Xavier plays aggressive on offense and moves the ball well, it should score at will like last game when the Musketeers scored 97 points. The problem with playing against the Johnnies is that there's not a lot you can do to take away what they want to do on offense, which is to take bad shots. The key is to stay disciplined and hope their guards don't get too hot. They're coming off a 91-86 win at Providence. The Musketeers are at the point where a game like this is one they absolutely have to win. We'll see how they respond with their backs inching closer and closer to the wall.
Predicted score: Xavier 86 St. John's 82