As Big East action continues to roll on, so do we as the 11-6 (1-5) St. John’s Red Storm host the 10-7 (2-4) Butler Bulldogs. As is tradition, here are some of my Keys To The Game, followed by a prediction.
This is the most obvious point of this game, and since turnovers and tempo are linked, I thought I’d put them in the same category.
St. John’s wants to enforce their will and their style on you, while Butler is a-ok slowing this game down. According to KenPom, St. John’s is the second fastest team in the country, while Butler ranks at 219th.
This Butler team is much more willing to run than in previous years (just outside the Top-100 in fastbreak points per game), but still, they’re going to want to hold onto the ball and avoid turnovers, before finding the openings in St. John’s defense.
This has changed since November, believe it or not. Butler isn't playing as fast. Still, the point stands, they'll run more than last year.
Shockingly, despite some poor performances, Butler is averaging the fewest turnovers in conference play, at nine per game. If Butler wants to win this game, they will have to limit turnovers and safely break the St. John's pressure.
St. John’s will look to push the pace and beat the Bulldogs down the court, and if they can, as Seton Hall did, this one could get out of hand. St. John’s ranks 11th in the country in fast break points at 17.06PPG, so Butler will have to get back on defense to prevent the Johnnies from getting easy buckets.
This was by far the most obvious factor in this game, but tempo battle will factor in heavily to the result of this game.
Battle of the Bigs:
Manny Bates vs Joel Soriano should be incredibly fun. Joel Soriano has an impressive offensive rating of 123.3, good for 104th in the country, while Bates isn’t too far behind at 119.7, ranking 170th, according to KenPom.com.
Both bigs factor in heavily to their teams offensively, with Soriano leading the Johnnies in scoring at 16.2PPG, while Bates ranks second for Butler at 13.2PPG. Both shoot over 60% from the field, shoot around 70% from the free-throw line, have a usage rate of above 20% and have over 2 win shares on the season.
The big difference is on the glass. Soriano is a double-double machine. He has a double-double in 14/17 games and is averaging over 12 rebounds per game. Bates is half that at six.
But St. John’s plays at a much faster pace, are these stats consistent on a per-possession basis?
Per 100 possessions, Soriano has 22.8 rebounds per 100 possessions, whereas Bates is at 11.7. Soriano has taken a massive leap in his rebounding stats this season, and he’s actually third in the country in rebounds per game. He’s a force on the glass and someone that opponents have to be aware of on the glass.
Manny Bates, however, has been the better defender this season. His defensive rating of 94.3 ranks 12th in the conference. Soriano is five spots behind him. Manny Bates’s defensive box-plus-minus ranks seventh in the conference at 3.8, meanwhile Soriano is outside the Top 20.
Granted, I strongly dislike the use of individual defensive stats (defense is as a unit, it’s hard to use stats to identify individual mistakes or impressive feats imo), but I can’t write “just watch the games and you’ll see,” so I have to have some sort of backing.
If those nerd stats aren’t your thing and you just want good old-fashioned blocks, well don’t worry, I've got you covered. Bates is tied for second in the conference (T25 nationally) in blocks per game at 2.1, while Soriano is at seventh with 1.5.
Both of these big men have been crucial to their team's success, so I’m very excited to see how each fares in this one.
Both of these teams start two point/combo guards, so I’m very interested to see how they match up with each other.
For St. John’s, the starting backcourt usually is Alexander-Curbelo (6’0” and 6’1” respectively) both sharing some time at the PG, meanwhile for its Hunter-Harris (6’4” and 6’2” respectively).
Both teams have relied a lot on these two guards, but especially St. John’s. Alexander and Curbelo are first and second on this team in minutes played, respectively. These guys are asked to shoulder a ton of the offensive load and both have usage ratings between 20-24%. Both guards are asked to create a ton of shots for their teammates too, with Curbelo ranking fifth in assists in the conference and Posh at 11.
For Butler, Hunter leads the team in minutes, with Harris in third, having played exactly two fewer minutes this season than Simas Lukosius. While neither guard has the assist numbers of their Red Storm counterparts, both are still asked to do a ton for their teams.
Chuck Harris is asked to do a ton of scoring offensively, as he leads the team in shot attempts and is their third-leading scorer this season. Chuck also has the highest usage rate on the team (outside of Myles Tate, who hasn’t played in a little while) and leads the team in assists during conference play.
Hunter takes more of a role as a floor general, and his play really reflects how this Butler team does. This team only goes as far as Hunter takes them, and here’s some proof:
Hunter's Big East Stats
So yeah, his play matters. Butler will need good Eric Hunter if they want to make a run in the Big East.
Man, this is a tough one to predict. I would think so much of this game depends on the tempo, and it does, but both of these teams have some bizarre stats that make me question this.
Butler is 3-0 in their three fastest games this season, with those wins coming over New Orleans, St. Francis (PA) and BYU. For St. John’s, they’ve actually won their five slowest-paced games of the season, with wins over Syracuse, Nebraska, Central Connecticut, New Hampshire and Lafayette. So not the best teams either have played, but still some bizarre results.
Still think it matters, but it’s just something that I found incredibly interesting. Maybe slowing it down helps St. John’s get more set and locked in defensively and maybe Butler speeding it up helps with some of their offensive struggles. Who knows?
One matchup I’m eyeing is that I don’t think Butler has anyone to match up with David Jones. Jalen Thomas will probably start on him, and Jones is probably a much better athlete. Ali Ali will probably have to guard Jones for most of this game, and we’ll see what he can do. That’s a matchup for the St. John’s side I’m monitoring, as Jones is their highest usage player on offense and they run a ton of sets for him to get a good look.
For Butler, they really need to get going offensively. Butler’s offense often gets into a rut and settles for these awful deep contested twos. In this game, Butler will have to aggressively attack the St. John’s press and see if they can get some easy buckets off of the Red Storm pressure. St. John’s hasn’t really stifled anyone from deep lately, with the Red Storm opponents shooting 35% from three in conference play, and 42.5% in their two games in the new year.
And, as I will continue to mention, Butler’s three-point shooting is vital to their victories.
But, to go a little deeper here, Butler has won in their nine best three-point shooting games and is 1-7 in their worst 8, with the only win being in the season opener against New Orleans. Butler has only won two games when they shoot under 40% from three, and those games were against the aforementioned New Orleans Privateers and the mighty 3-13 California Golden Bears, who somehow have two conference wins.
So, Butler will need to hit outside shots and as long as you don’t turn the ball over, you can get those shots against St. John’s. I think Coach Matta is a much better coach than Coach Anderson, so I think he will find something at some point to get these open looks.
All this to say, I have no idea how this game goes. I think it plays closer to St. John’s in tempo, but in terms of a winner, I’m a little clueless. But, alas, I’m a homer and a fool, so...
Final Score: Butler 79, St. John’s 76
This is what it feels like picking Butler to win games they eventually lose by 20