Thursday at 7:30 PM, the Kentucky Wildcats host the St. John's Red Storm at Rupp Arena. This will be the 16th meeting between St. John's and Kentucky dating all the way back to 1943. Currently, the Wildcats are 10-5 against the Red Storm all time, but the Red Storm have some notable wins, including the 1944 NIT semifinal, the 1952 NCAA East Regional final, the 1985 NCAA West Regional semifinal, and most recently, the 2000 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.
This year, St. John's has been beset by all manner of adversity, from three of their nationally #2 ranked recruiting class being declared academically ineligible to head coach Steve Lavin suffering a setback from his recent prostate surgery that will require him to miss Thursday's game. As a result, the Red Storm has suffered from some choppy early season play, resulting in three losses to the Arizona Wildcats, the Texas A&M Aggies, and the Northeastern Huskies.
The Johnnies' depth is really an issue right now, since they have only ten players available, and two of them see almost no playing time. So the adversity is still in full swing for the Red Storm as they come rolling into Rupp tomorrow night.
|Rank and Records||SJU||UK|
|Strength of Schedule||#240||#139|
|RPI Top 50||0-1||0-0|
|11||D`Angelo Harrison||Starter||6-3||186||Freshman||2nd LS (14.2)|
|4||Maurice Harkless||Starter||6-8||190||Freshman||3rd ls (14.1), LR (6.7)|
|10||Nurideen Lindsey||Starter||6-3||185||Sophomore||LS (14.4), LA (3.6). LS (2.0)|
|3||God`sgift Achiuwa||Sixth man||6-9||240||Junior||2nd LR(6.6)|
|31||Malik Stith||Major res.||5-11||184||Junior|
St. Johns is not particularly big, but they are athletic and talented 1-7. After that, they get pretty thin, but their starting five and major reserves are very tough. The Johnnies don't shoot the ball particularly well from three, but less than 16% of their points come from the arc, one of the lowest percentages in college basketball (#336/345). St. John's wants to score inside, particularly off the dribble.
Defensively, the Red Storm isn't great, but it it also isn't bad. They are in the same ball park as Ole Dominion defensively, and they will be similarly physical. But St. John's is much more talented than the Monarchs, so don't think for a minute the teams are similar.
Four Factors to Winning
The Four Factors reflect what you'd expect. Kentucky is one of the best shooting and most high-powered offensive teams in the nation, but St. John's is capable. UK and the Red Storm are comparable ballhandling and offensive rebounding teams, and St. John's has a significantly higher free throw rate % due to their slashing and attacking style. The bad news for the Johnnies is that they don't shoot free throws very well, so that strong FTR% is a touch deceiving.
St. John's represents a serious challenge to Kentucky, albeit not a particularly threating one. The Johnnies are athletic and attack the rim relentlessly, but they don't play great defense and they are rarely a threat to hurt you from the perimeter. With all that said, they are plenty talented and can get teams in major foul trouble with their style.
Kentucky's length and perimeter shooting will present big problems for St. John's. The Johnnies are not particularly tall, but they do have some strong players in the post, and will be as physical as any team Kentucky has played. If Kentucky does not stay in front of the Red Storm, or cannot defend off screens, they could wind up with several players in foul trouble and in a really tough game.
Overall, Kentucky is a major favorite in this game, and the odds of an upset are relatively small. But if the Johnnies really come to play and can get UK on their heels, they can make this thing very interesting. Conversely, if the Red Storm players just get to the rim, they have only accomplished 50% of what they need, because putting the ball in the basket against UK's shot blockers is going to be very tough. They must make open shots on the wing in order to compete, and that isn't their strength. Kentucky is just too long and tall for them to try to shoot layups all night.
This game could be a blowout for Kentucky, or a narrow loss. But a Red Storm victory would require St. John's to play above their heads and Kentucky below their ability. That's always possible. It just isn't likely.