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St. Johns – Arizona State NCAA Tournament Preview

The last of the First Four play-in games for the NCAA Tournament, Wednesday’s contest between the St. John’s Red Storm and Arizona State Sun Devils should be a barnburner.  It pits two of the greatest college basketball players against each other (as coaches), and it pits two teams who are both frustratingly inconsistent.

St. John’s Red Storm

The Red Storm are led by Head Coach Chris Mullin, who led the Johnnies to a 21-12 record.  While the record may not be all that special, they did have a couple of big wins against Marquette (x2) and Villanova.  They also had some maddening losses to DePaul and Marquette in the Big East Tournament, where they looked like they didn’t even show up.

This St. John’s team starts and ends with Shamorie Ponds.  L.J. Figueroa and Marvin Clark are nice complementary pieces but in order for St. John’s to win they need to have their top scorer going.  If Ponds can produce a couple of big games, including this one against Arizona State, the Johnnies may have a shot to go a while in the NCAA Tournament.  If Ponds is cold, this team is doomed.

Arizona State Red Devils

This is Bobby Hurley’s second trip to the NCAA Tournament with Arizona State, and his second time in the First Four.  Unfortunately for Hurley, last season’s results may be exactly the same this season due to the Sun Devils’ inconsistency.  Hurley has been to the tournament once before Arizona State, with Buffalo in 2014-15, and has never made it past the first round.

Arizona State is led by freshman Canadian guard Luguentz Dort and sophomore guard Remy Martin.  Their leadership comes from Zylan Cheatham and although he’s not the most talented player on the team, his 11.8 PPG is pretty respectable.  The key to the Red Devils’ run is the health of Martin.  Martin left midway through Arizona State’s Pac 12 Quarterfinals loss to Oregon and even though he returned he’s been limited in both game and practice action.

Prediction

This one is going to come down to the wire.  As mentioned before, each team has an X-factor that they absolutely NEED to have in order to win.  For St. John’s, that’s the effectiveness of Shamorie Ponds.  He is the facilitator of their offense and they run through him.  For Arizona State, that’s the health of Remy Martin and therefore his effectiveness as well.  If he isn’t firing on all cylinders it’s going to be hard for the Sun Devils to find offense.

These teams are essentially carbon copies of each other, which makes it an interesting matchup.   They have two Hall of Fame coaches who haven’t had any NCAA coaching success, a lot of talented scorers, some very bad losses to inferior teams, and zero rebounding.

Neither team is good at rebounding so it will come down to those second opportunities off the boards.  If one team can exploit that, they’ll have the advantage.  Because St. John’s relies so heavily on Shamorie Ponds, they’re at a slight disadvantage.  However, special players rise at special times so it will be a tight 76-71 win for St. John’s.

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