Well it’s Marquette basketball alright. Fans experienced the indescribable euphoria of coming back and knocking off the #1 team in the nation…only to reach a new low of losing to a substandard Providence squad on their own court a few short days later. In terms of tournament resume, the Providence loss was the worst one of the season as home losses tend to be judged harshly by the committee. However, there were reasons for the loss, which you can read about in Paint Touches’ most recent article. As draining as the highs and lows are, this is what makes Big East basketball a superior product to any other conference. There is so much talent spread between these 10 teams that anyone can beat anyone on any given night. For the Big East, March Madness is just an extension of the madness that occurs in January through February. Now, onto St. John’s.
1: Marcus LoVett: 6-0 175 lb RSFR PG: 33.0 mpg, 16.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 2.9 tpg, .472 FG%, .810 FT%, .412 3P%
2: Shamorie Ponds: 6-1 170 lb FR PG: 33.6 mpg, 17.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.3 bpg, 2.0 tpg, .443 FG%. .814 FT%, .378 3P%
3: Malik Ellison: 6-6 215 lb SO SG: 25.6 mpg, 8.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.1 bpg, 1.7 tpg, .452 FG%, .563 FT%, .397 3P%
4: Bashir Ahmed: 6-7 210 lb JR SF: 26.3 mpg, 12.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.4 bpg, 2.6 tpg, .385 FG%, .673 FT%, .380 3P%
5: Kassoum Yakwe: 6-7 210 lb SO PF: 19.8 mpg, 3.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 0.9 apg, 0.2 spg, 2.1 bpg, 0.9 tpg, .431 FG%, .710 FT%, .000 3P%
Federico Mussini: 6-2 170 lb SO PG: 19.0 minutes per game
Tariq Owens: 6-11 200 lb RSSO PF: 18.6 minutes per game
Darien Williams: 6-8 235 lb SR PF: 10.6 minutes per game
Richard Freudenberg: 6-9 210 lb FR SF: 9.9 minutes per game
Amar Alibegovic: 6-9 240 lb JR PF: 8.5 minutes per game
Justin Cole: 6-2 190 lb FR SG
Elijah Holifield: 6-3 185 lb SO SG
Brandon Lawrence: 6-2 175 lb FR PG
Justin Simon: 6-5 205 lb SO SG (Redshirtting)
Marvin Clark Jr: 6-7 225 lb JR SF (Redshirtting)
• Buckle up folks it’s going to be a crazy ride. St. John’s will be the first team all season that plays at a faster tempo than Marquette. They are ranked as the 27th highest tempo in D1. The closest match Marquette has played is Creighton at 78th and we all know what kind of offense went into that one. First one to 100, might be a legitimate outcome.
• Marquette will be the fourth fastest team that St. John’s has faced. The Red Storm have had mixed results against fast paced teams, creaming lowly Tulane, barely getting passed terrible CSU Northridge and getting blown out by high majors Penn State and Creighton.
• The long ball will be flying free in this one. St. John’s ranks first in conference for 3PAs while Marquette is 3rd. They reverse for 3P% with Marquette owning the top spot (and top 5 in the nation) and St. John’s coming in third.
• Not only do both teams like the three ball, both teams are terrible at defending it. They are the two worst in the conference.
• Yankuba Sima may have transferred, but St. John’s is still the host of the block party. Tariq Owens and Kassoum Yakwe combine for 4.5 blocks a game which by itself would be enough to lead the conference.
• Expect a lot of turnovers, but expect them to come in different ways. Marquette leads the conference in steals but is near last in non-steal turnovers forced. St. John’s is the opposite, they lead the league in turnovers forced despite being near the bottom in steals. Marquette may have the advantage as they are among the Big East’s best in TO% while St. John’s is near last.
• St John’s is a poor rebounding squad, ranking last in conference for rebounding margin. They are especially susceptible to offensive boards, Xavier just hung 17 on them in their last game.
• The Red Storm can hit the three but rank last in conference for 2P FG%.
• St. John’s is led by two of the best young guns in the Big East, true freshman Shamorie Ponds and redshirt freshman Marcus LoVett. The tiny twosome has similar playstyles as they are both lightening quick, hairpin triggered, shoot first ask questions later type guards. Both rank in the top 10 of the conference for scoring with about 17 points per game. Though both will shoot at will, Ponds is more likely to take the three whereas LoVett prefers to use his quickness to get into the lane. LoVett is the primary ballhandler but Ponds brings more on defense as he is one of the top 10 thieves in the conference. This duo will be terrorizing Big East defenses for years to come and will be at the top of any team’s scouting report.
• If you are looking for the consistent veteran of the Red Storm, you will find it in another first-year division 1 player. Bashir Ahmed is a JUCO product originally from the Bronx. While he doesn’t have the explosiveness of the young guns, he has been a steadying presence, never scoring less than 6 nor more than 20 in a game. He is another shooter, sinking 41 treys with a 38% clip. He’s really struggled to find his interior shot, shooting under 40% from inside the arc. He has had some trouble in adjusting to the physicality of the Big East. Most noticeably, his rebounding numbers dropped from over 6 a game to under 5 in conference play.
• St. John’s is anchored by two defensive specialists in the frontcourt. The first one, Marquette knows all too well. Kassoum Yakwe terrorized the Golden Eagles last season to the tune of 19 rebounds and 13 blocks over two regular season contests. Surprisingly, he hasn’t looked nearly as intimidating this season, as he’s seen his points and rebounds plummet to around 3 and 3 per game. His role seems to be diminishing as he has failed to eclipse 20 minutes in any of the last four contests, though that has partially been influenced by foul trouble. The beneficiary of Yakwe’s shrinking role has been Tariq Owens. Owens is a string bean of center, weighing in at only 200 lbs. But he uses his incredible wingspan to deny bucket after bucket. His 2.3 blocks per game leads the conference (Yakwe’s 2.2 is second).
Marquette fans might want to make a preemptive appointment to see their chiropractor on Thursday, because there is a high probability of whiplash with how fast the ball is going to be up and down the court. Both teams prefer offense to defense and both are not shy about letting the shots fly, though they have different ways of going about it. Marquette, while up tempo, is very disciplined and efficient on offense. They use crisp passing and quick triggers to find open shots early and drain them with alarming precision. Their eFG% is among the top in the nation. St. John’s offense is more akin to playground ball. They have elite playmakers in LoVett and Ponds and they use them to get to the rim and launch threes. They are especially good at turning defense into offense. The Red Storm speed their opponents up, faster than their usual pace, which leads to mistakes in the form of turnovers. Ponds and LoVett might be the best duo in the conference when in transition. Marquette presents a unique challenge for them, as they are very comfortable playing at a faster pace. St. John’s signature on defense is a full court press that they will sometimes use for the entire game. Katin Reinhardt has emerged as a press breaking specialist and his PG skills (he was recruited as a PG out of high school) should be on full display. Unless Marquette is having an off shooting night, their offense should torch the Red Storm defense without much resistance. St. John’s is the worst 3P defensive team that Marquette will see all season. However, they shouldn’t fall in love with the three because St. John’s has shown itself to be very vulnerable to fouls. Ahmed, Malik Ellison, Yakwe, and Owens all average north of 2.5 fouls per game. Ellison has been particularly bad as of late, averaging 4 per game over the last 7 contests. With some effort, Marquette could have half of St. John’s in foul trouble by half.
On the other side of the court, Marquette will need to figure out how to keep LoVett and Ponds from penetrating at will. Marquette showed no ability to stop Kamar Badlwin or Kethan Savage in their collapse at Butler or Kyron Cartwright in their most recent loss to Providence. Ponds and LoVett are built in the same mold of lighting quick, miniature guards. It might seem crazy against a team that loves the three like St. John’s, but the 1-3-1 zone might warranted just to keep them out of the paint. Coach Mullin has yet to show prowess adjusting to opponents’ defenses. If Marquette can find a way to disrupt Ponds and LoVett, then they will devolve to street ball and the game will be over. However, St. John’s has too much scoring talent for Marquette to ever feel comfortable with a lead. They are not afraid to launch off balance NBA range threes and they are good enough shooters to make them. This game could very well be first one to 100.
St. John’s: 89