Game 7 Preview: Penn State vs. St. John's Red Storm

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

PSU begins a crucial 3-game stretch of their non-conference schedule at the Barclays Center versus St. John's.

Who: St. John's Red Storm (4-1)
When: Tonight, 7:00pm
Where: Barclays Center
TV: None
KenPom Rank: 68
Vegas Line: St. John's -1.5
Enemy Blog: Rumble in the Garden

The long-awaited appeal of the Barclays Center Classic is upon us as the Lions travel to Brooklyn to face the St. John's Red Storm. After the disposal of two hapless opponents, many are eager to see just how this PSU team stacks up against an athletic opponent expected to make a run at the NCAAs this season. With Georgia Tech or Ole Miss awaiting the Lions on Saturday plus a road trip next Tuesday to Pitt, the next five days will tell a lot about this team.

*This game will not be televised on cable television, but the opportunity to watch a live online stream is available to you at the Barclays Center official website. Just be warned that to access this stream, you will need to create an account and pay $9.95.

Scouting The Opposition

Steve Lavin is in his fourth year with St. John's as he tries to get the Johnnies back to the NCAAs. Last season, they seemed to be well on their way before losing 7 of their last 8 games and ending their season in the NIT. Last year's Red Storm only scored at 97.0 adjusted efficiency, which ranked 237th in the country according to KenPom. For reference, PSU's shooting woes last year didn't keep them from having an offense that bad (PSU's 100.0 adjusted efficiency was ranked 170th last season).

To this point in the season, Penn State and St. John's have played strikingly similar schedules. Both teams played Monmouth and Longwood as part of this event, but St. John's also played Bucknell and Wagner. What does this mean? Not much, really, other than both coaching staffs are thankful that film analysis was easier to dissect this week.

St. John's returned their top five players from a year ago and only suffered the loss of one major rotational player, Amir Garrett, who transferred out of the program. They added Philly's finest, Rysheed Jordan, a name many on Penn State's roster know. Jordan, a Top-50 true freshmen, recently was suspended for a game, but returned to the court on Tuesday. He has shot terribly to start off his career, but he appears to be St. John's best distributor. They also added 25-year-old forward Orlando Sanchez and brought back God'sgift Achiuwa from a redshirt year.

Lavin's crew isn't short on height or athleticism. Jakarr Sampson came back as the reigning Big East Freshman of the Year, as the 6'9" forward passed on the NBA to comeback to school. They also sport the best shot-blocker in the nation in 6'9" Chris Obekpa, who has already blocked 160 shots in 38 career games. His presence down low will cause major problems for PSU's driving guards.

The Johnnies' leading scorer is junior guard D'Angelo Harrison, a high-volume scorer at 19.4 PPG on 32.9% of his team's possessions. He is flanked in the backcourt by Phil Greene IV, who is scoring 11.2 PPG on a much more efficient 56.4% eFG%. Junior wing Sir'Dominic Pointer takes on a limited role in the offense, but is an important glue guy that is a great defender on the wing.

Key Matchup

On paper, this game will pit each team's strengths and weaknesses against each other. PSU has relied on their offense to win games, while St. John's defense is definitely their biggest strength. The Nittany Lions D has a long ways to go, while the Johnnies have been a mess offensively without any identity.

For Penn State, they will need Donovon Jack and Brandon Taylor to keep making perimeter jumpers to open up the lane and potentially draw Obekpa away from the tin to open up the offense. If neither are on target, or the more likely option, saddled in foul trouble, PSU will need to adjust their attack and be weary of Obekpa patrolling the paint when they drive to the rim.

Prediction

St. John's definitely has a solid group of talented players but they are pretty far away from gelling as a team this early into the year. PSU's chemistry has been superb in the early-going, as they've assisted on 67% of their made field goals in the last three games.

I think Rysheed Jordan is going to have a great showing for the Johnnies and Obekpa is definitely going to cause some problems for the Lions' offense, but I don't think it will be enough at the end of the day. The Lions are just further along as a team at this point than the Red Storm.

Frazier carries PSU to a win that will look better and better as the year goes on. I'm taking Penn State in a close one, 71-66.


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