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#7 Marquette Men’s Basketball Big East Preview Primer: vs St. John’s

The Golden Eagles welcome the Red Storm to Fiserv Forum to help celebrate National Marquette Day.

Butler v St. John’s Photo by Porter Binks/Getty Images

#7 Marquette Golden Eagles (17-5, 8-3 Big East) vs St. John’s Red Storm (14-9, 6-6 Big East)

Date: Saturday, February 20, 2024
Time: 5pm Central, approximately one hour after the women’s game ends at the McGuire Center, hint hint
Location: A sold out Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Tyler Kolek, 15.1 ppg
Rebounds: Oso Ighodaro, 7.3 rpg
Assists: Tyler Kolek, 7.2 apg

St. John’s Stats Leaders

Points: Joel Soriano, 15.9 ppg
Rebounds: Joel Soriano, 9.6 rpg
Assists: Daniss Jenkins, 5.5 apg

KenPom.com Rankings

Marquette: #10
St. John’s: #39
Game Projection: Marquette has a 76% chance of victory, with a projected score of 79-72

Last Time Out: St. John’s grabbed hold of the game late-ish in the first half with Joel Soriano on the bench and the Golden Eagles going 0-for-11 from long range in the first 20 minutes. Marquette bounced back to eventually tie the game back up at 49-all with 13:43 to go, and three minutes later, a three-pointer from David Joplin triggered a 15-2 run that closed with another three from Jop and left MU up 71-58, seemingly heavily in control with six minutes left.

And then Marquette didn’t record another field goal the rest of the way.

And then Marquette couldn’t hit free throws to hold the Red Storm at arm’s length.

But ultimately, St. John’s had just one field goal in the final 2:30 themselves, and they had to go the length of the floor in four seconds to try to hit anything to win it, and that turned into a 40 foot baseball pass from Joel Soriano to Daniss Jenkins for a contested three that missed, Marquette wins.

Yes, it was a Marquette/St. John’s game, because apparently we just have to keep playing in a fireworks factory against these guys, no matter what the roster looks like or who the coach is.

Since Last We Met: At the time, that was the third straight loss for the Red Storm after a 12-4 overall start to the season and a 4-1 intro to Big East play. They bounced back from the loss to MU by clattering Villanova by 20 at The Garden, running of a 16-3 stretch late in the second half to leave no doubt. However, that was followed up by an 11 point loss at Xavier and a 13 point loss at The Garden to UConn to drop St. John’s to 13-9 overall and 5-6 in the league.

They’re coming into Saturday off of a win, but 1) that’s just their second win since January 11th, and 2) it was a 28 point drubbing of DePaul at UBS Arena on Long Island. Winning is good, but it’s hard to establish positivity about what you’re doing and where you’re going when you’re supposed to win that game like that.

Tempo Free Fun: The first thing that we have to do to assess what’s going to happen on Saturday evening is note that neither team is going to look the same. Back on January 20th, that was Marquette’s third game since Chase Ross hurt his shoulder against Seton Hall. Ross has returned for the Golden Eagles since then, putting up 11 points and four rebounds in 31 minutes on the road against Villanova in his first game back and having a quiet four points and three rebounds in 15 minutes against Georgetown last weekend.

On the other side, St. John’s was without Jordan Dingle due to an unspecified illness in the first meeting. The 2023 Ivy League Player of the Year had been in and out of the starting lineup for the Red Storm, and the MU game was his second straight contest out. In the last four games, he’s averaging 11.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 3.0 assists... but only shooting 19% from long range on over five attempts per game. That’s dragged Dingle’s season long shooting percentage down to just 30% and a woeful 23% against Big East teams. He was back in the starting lineup for the last two games, so I’d presume to see him in the first five again on Saturday. In addition to that, most of the St. John’s coaching staff missed that first game due to COVID, one game after head coach Rick Pitino missed one for the same reason. I don’t know how much not having guys doing various tasks on the bench did or did not hurt St. John’s there, but, y’know: Five losses in the last seven games says it didn’t matter that much.

A big question for Saturday’s matchup is which Marquette shooting squad is going to show up. The Golden Eagles went 0-for-11 in the first half from long range against the Red Storm in the first meeting, but 6-for-9 after intermission.... but all of the makes were in the first 14 minutes. That 6-for-9 seems to have triggered something in the Golden Eagles, as they’ve connected on at 45% of their three-point attempts in all but one of their games since then, and that one was a 44.4% shooting experience as they romped past Seton Hall at Fiserv. Marquette didn’t have any problem shooting inside the arc against the Red Storm at The Garden, connecting on 67% of their attempts. That was the second straight game north of 60% for MU at the time, and that turned into three straight and then four of six after shooting 66% against Georgetown last Saturday. The two that missed? 55% against Seton Hall and 53% against Villanova. If Marquette can shoot like they have since visiting New York both inside and outside the arc, then things are looking pretty good for them. They outscored St. John’s 45-38 in the second half in the first meeting when the shots were going down, and specifically 31-22 before the power went out for the final six minutes.

Yes, St. John’s had a skid of five losses in six games. Here’s the thing about it: They weren’t playing poorly. During the stretch of losses, meaning we’re cutting off the DePaul victory, the Red Storm were playing like the #48 team in the country according to BartTorvik.com’s data filtering. No one in Jamaica is thrilled about the #90 offense, of course, but they were a top 50 defense on the other end. Since losing to Marquette, or since Jordan Dingle got back in the lineup, St. John’s has been playing like the #32 team in the country. To a certain extent — and narrowly losing to Marquette is a great example of this — they just haven’t been winning basketball games against tough competition over the last month. There’s nothing wrong with that, someone has to win and someone has to lose, it’s just not that fun for the guys in that locker room.

One thing to watch for Marquette in Saturday’s contest is the impact of Joel Soriano on the floor. He’s the leading scorer and rebounder on the St. John’s roster and we’d be foolish to call him anything other than the double-double threat that he is. If Soriano isn’t the best rebounder in the Big East, then he’s close, with a top 50 offensive rebounding rate and #125 rank on the other end according to KenPom.com. However, in the first meeting between these two teams, Marquette limited him to just 11 points in 27 minutes and he got just two of his nine rebounds on the offensive end. The Stat Broadcast PDF stats from that game show him as a -2 for the entire game, which is not the kind of thing you like to see from your starting center that’s supposed to be one of the best players in the Big East.

The fact of the matter is that St. John’s miiiiiiight be better with Soriano off the floor, particularly against Marquette. Soriano was on the bench when the Johnnies grabbed control of the first meeting, and I don’t think anyone’s questioning the idea that Marquette center Oso Ighodaro’s athleticism is a bad matchup for Soriano’s more lumbering style. Hoop Explorer has STJ’s defense as nearly 13 points per 100 possessions better when Soriano’s on the bench this season, and the dip in offense without his talents both scoring and rebounding is negligible at best. Filter it for just how the Red Storm plays against top 100 opponents.... and the defense is 15 points per 100 possessions better..... and the offense is actually better without Soriano.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s weird to say that a guy who can throw 20 and 10 at an opponent just as easy as hitting water falling out of a boat isn’t a useful component of your team.... but the math says that Soriano is actively hurting St. John’s in Big East play. Think about it this way: He subbed in to the first game against Marquette with 9:26 to go after the Golden Eagles had just scored five straight after a 56-all tie, and three minutes later, Marquette was up 13. That run — where Soriano was the only offense that St. John’s mustered with two free throws — was where Marquette won the game. Is Joel Soriano good or bad for St. John’s? Did STJ close the game on a 14-2 run with him? Yes. Did it matter? Maybe, maybe not, because they lost the game because of the run they gave up when he entered the game.

Stat Watch: Oso Ighodaro needs three blocks to tie and four to pass Scott Merritt for the 8th most blocks in program history.

Stat Watch #2: Kam Jones needs 8 points to tie and nine points to pass Andrew Rowsey for the 40th most points in program history. He needs 25 to pass Bernard Toone for 39th.

Stat Watch #3: Tyler Kolek needs 1 point to tie and 2 points to pass Jajuan Johnson for the 50th most points in program history. He needs 3 points to pass Luke Fishcer for 49th and 16 to pass Tony Miller and Dwayne Johnson for 47th.

Stat Watch #4: Tyler Kolek needs 13 assists to tie and 14 to pass Junior Cadougan and Lloyd Walton for the 11th most assists in a single season. He needs 15 to pass Travis Diener for 10th.

Stat Watch #5: Tyler Kolek needs one assist to break a tie with Travis Diener for the 3rd most assists in program history. He needs 16 to pass Dominic James for 2nd.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 8-2, with wins in their last six games

St. John’s Last 10 Games: 5-5, with a win last time out snapping a two game skid, but losses in five of their last seven

All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 28-16

Current Streak: Marquette has won five straight against St. John’s and eight of the last 10.