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Next Up - St. John’s

Time: 12:00 || Venue: Madison Square Garden || Video: Fox

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Notre Dame v Duke
DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 29: Gary Trent, Jr. #2 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts during a game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 29, 2018 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 88-66.
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Next up for Duke is St. John’s, and while the Johnnies are just 10-13 and 0-11 in the Big East, coach Chris Mullin says they’re not that far off, and he may be right.

Here’s the easy and obvious thing: despite the record, St. John’s has been highly competitive.

Take a look:

  • lost to #16 Arizona State 82-70
  • lost to #23 Seton Hall 75-70
  • lost to #1 Villanova 78-71
  • lost to #11 Xavier 88-82
  • lost to #6 Xavier 73-68

That’s pretty good supporting evidence.

St. John’s also has a pretty good pair of defenders in Shamorie Ponds (6-1 sophomore) and Justin Simon (6-5 sophomore), who rank ninth and 10th in the NCAA in steals with 2.52 and 2.5 steals per game respectively. As a team, St. John’s is ninth nationally in steals.

St. John’s took a major hit on December 2nd when 6-0 sophomore Marcus LoVett was lost for the year although the circumstances seem a bit strange.

Without LoVett the Johnnies have a thin rotation just seven deep. Junior Tariq Owens is 6-11 but just 205 which will make it difficult to bang inside with Duke’s big men.

Marvin Clark II is a 6-7 230 lb. junior from Kansas City who averages 11.4 ppg and 4.2 rpg.

Bashir Ahmed is a 6-7 senior with nearly identical stats (11.6 ppg and 4.7 rpg).

Bryan Trimble Jr. is another kind from Kansas City, a 6-3 freshman guard who doesn’t put up any significant numbers, not that that necessarily matters. There are a lot of ways to contribute, as Justin Robinson has demonstrated.

Kassoum Yakwe is a 6-7 junior from Mali who also has a minimal statistical profile.

The final guy getting rotation minutes is Amar Alibegovic, a 6-9, 240 lb. senior from Rome who also barely scratches statistically.

The most prominent Johnnie is still coach Chris Mullin, a Hall of Fame NBA legend and, incidentally, one of Coach K’s first major recruiting targets and misses.

When Mullin played at St. John’s for Louie Carnesecca, he was truly great. And like most of Carnesecca’s recruits, he was a city kid.

That’s really not the case anymore or at least not now.

St. John’s currently only has four hometown kids on the roster. Of the players listed above, only Ahmed and Ponds are from New York.

We haven’t watched St. John’s for a while but so much of their traditional identity was as New York’s team.

There are a lot of college teams in New York of course, but St. John’s was usually the most prominent and Carnesecca could do most of his recruiting with a taxi.

That meant a certain identity for the Johnnies. They played a city game and drove, drove, drove.

What’s it going to be like now with most of the players coming from the Midwest, Mali or California? How does that St. John’s make sense with what we’ve always known St. John’s to be?

Ponds is a true New Yorker who is a good ballhandler and penetrator but not a particularly good three point shooter. He’s taken more than anyone else but is hitting just 21.5%.

Clark is a better option, hitting 43.8%. Still, Duke may opt to zone St. John’s until they can show they can score the long shot.

The Johnnies will have trouble with Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter inside. No matter who Owens guards someone else has to play a guy about a half-foot taller. Of course St. John’s could always zone too but Gary Trent and Grayson Allen could make them pay.

We’ll be interested to see how Trevon Duval does too. He’s listed as being from Delaware but grew up in New Jersey and played his first two years of high school ball in the Garden State. This game is likely to have more resonance for him than most of his teammates.

St. John’s can apply great guard pressure but offense is somewhat limited and the bench isn’t particularly deep. Playing at home works to their advantage though and as Mullin notes, it’s a very competitive team.

Duke is and should be favored, but the Johnnies are going to smack someone soon. A lot would have to go right for them to upset Duke, but it’s not inconceivable.

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