St. John’s basketball waited until the end of Sunday’s NCAA Tournament bracket reveal to hear its name. Once the Red Storm were called, the waiting time vanished.
The Johnnies’ quick turnaround is a result of their assignment to the First Four, the tournament’s opening round, where they’ll match up with fellow No. 11 seed Arizona State in Dayton, Ohio, on Wednesday. Read on for what the Johnnies must do to move on to a first-round game against No. 6 Buffalo on Friday in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Rebound without fouling
St. John’s (21-12, 8-10 Big East) struggled rebounding all season with a small lineup, ranking ninth in the conference. It led to a tendency to get into foul trouble. That’s not something to test against Arizona State (22-10, 12-6 Pac-12), which boasts the sixth-best free throw chances to field goal attempts ratio in the nation.
The Johnnies will have to limit the production of Zylan Cheatham on both ends. The 6-foot-8 forward leads the team with 10.4 rebounds and averages 11.8 points.
Drive to the basket
The Red Storm are coming off a 1-4 stretch that hasn’t been helped by a cold shooting hand. In the Big East Tournament quarterfinals, St. John’s shot 3-for-20 from 3-point range in a blowout loss. Over the past five games, it made 33.6 percent of those shots.
“We didn’t end the season the way we wanted to but this is a new opportunity,” Marvin Clark said Sunday. “New life.”
Now is the time to focus on an otherwise inconsistent inside game. Shamorie Ponds has the ability to drive to the basket, score in bunches and open up the rest of the floor by drawing defenders. Mustapha Heron works well along the baseline by exploiting openings near the hoop. Together they can fluster defenses and get to the line. The Sun Devils haven’t shown the ability to stop those drives without fouling, which can create extra opportunities at the line.
Get up and down
When the pace quickens, St. John’s wins. The Johnnies play efficiently in an up-tempo, up-and-down game. The Sun Devils present such an opportunity, averaging shots early in possessions and favoring a similar style. LJ Figueroa and Big East Defender of the Year Justin Simon create chances on loose balls and score often in transition. Forcing an ASU team that holds onto the ball into turnovers could be the difference.
“This is what we work all year for and we finally have an opportunity to take advantage of it,” Ponds said.