Featured Video from Scott Reichel
Big East action here as the St John's Red Storm host the Xavier Musketeers. Both teams have been having somewhat disappointing campaigns, as St John's enters at 14-11 while Xavier sits at 16-9. Oddsmakers have this one as pretty tight, so it should be a good one. It will be televised nationally by FS1.
Xavier Falling OffXavier basketball has taken a big tumble the past couple of seasons. Just two years ago they were one of the best teams in the nation and they made the NCAA tournament as a 1-seed, and last year they missed out on March Madness entirely. They have been better this season but still aren't anywhere close to being back to their old heights. They had a very solid run during their non-conference slate, but now it looks like that might have had more to do with playing a soft schedule than anything else. They lost to a mediocre Wake Forest team right before conference play got underway, and their downward trend has continued in Big East action.
They are just 5-7 in the conference, and they have been struggling pretty badly on offense. Xavier does have a lot of size and a ton of very lengthy guys, which explains why their defense has been playing well, but that hasn't translated to points. They struggle to shoot the ball from outside and are connecting on only 30.9 percent of their attempts from downtown as a team. They are pretty sloppy with the ball, turning it over 13.4 times per game despite playing at a slow pace, and they shoot only 65.3 percent from the free-throw line. Junior forward Naji Marshall is averaging 16.2 points per game but he isn't doing it very efficiently, and it doesn't get all that much help. They also haven't been great away from home this year.
Red Storm Need This OneSt John's has a storied history, but they had been mired in mediocrity for a long time before last season. They finally broke out last year, making it to the NCAA tournament, but it's unclear if they are going to be able to sustain that level of success. They have taken a step backward this year, and enter this one at only 14-11. That being said, things aren't as bad as that might suggest. They are still ranked 77th by advanced analytics site kenpom.com, and KenPom has them rated as one of college basketball's unluckiest teams. That's because they have endured a lot of close losses. Just a couple of games ago they lost to Georgetown by a single point, and not too long ago they lost to an elite Seton Hall team by only three.
They bounced back from a rough stretch in their most recent game, beating Providence by 11 points. They had some impressive efforts during the non-conference slate that showed they have a relatively high ceiling, like when they beat a highly-ranked Arizona team on a neutral court. The Red Storm rank 60th in overall defensive efficiency, which is impressive considering they play at a very fast pace. Despite playing at an infinitely faster pace and thus having many more possessions, they still turn the ball over a lot less than Xavier does. They have three different guys averaging at least 12.5 points per game, and two of them shoot it well from deep. They rack up an impressive 10.1 steals per game, which is one of the highest totals in the nation.
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
I like Saint John's a lot in this spot. Xavier is overrated, and I don't think they have the offense to hang here. They shoot less than 31 percent from downtown as a team, and the offense has often been even worse on the road. A lot of people are hopping off the St. John's bandwagon, but I think they've been pretty unlucky, and they still have a lot left in the tank. They just beat Providence by double digits in their most recent game, so they have some momentum entering this one. Don't sleep on the Red Storm.
Prediction: St. John's
Full-Game Total Pick
The under also makes a lot of sense in this spot. Both teams are much stronger on defense than they are on offense, and neither team can shoot the ball at all. Xavier is very sloppy with the ball and turns it over a lot, which plays right into St John's hand defensively. The Red Storm average more than 10 steals per game, and I don't think Xavier is going to be able to get anything going. Xavier is also strong on defense, and virtually every member of their rotation has a lot of length. This one has defensive struggle written all over it.