Bracket breakdown: #8 San Diego St. vs. #9 St. John’s
The St. John’s Red Storm 21-11 (10-8) were a bubble team unsure of their tournament status leading up selection Sunday. Then shortly after 6 pm Eastern time, an elated group of young men wearing red warm-up gear felt a sigh of relief. The Red Storm’s bubble did not burst, in fact they grabbed an impressive #9 seed and their high-scoring offense could match-up well against their counter-part, #8 San Diego St. 26-8 (14-4) who favor a slow-defensive style. But wait.
Just hours before news of their selection broke, reports came out of St. John’s that the University and head coach Steve Lavin have suspended starting junior center Chris Obekpa two weeks for a violation of team rules. No basketball activities until March 29th. An NCAA official did not comment if this suspension affected St. John’s seeding (it obviously didn’t). This is a crushing loss for the Red Storm, Obekpa averaged six points and seven rebounds a game, but more importantly he was fifth in the nation in blocked shots, averaging just over three per game. He holds the school record for most blocked shots in a career with 321.
Without their only intimidating big-man, St. John’s will struggle against a Steve Fisher coached Aztec team. Fisher stresses a slow-pace defensive grudge-match, and they should dominate the boards with an absent Obekpa in the middle. San Diego St. has made the tournament every year since 2010, reaching the Sweet 16 twice (2014, 2010). When filling out your bracket, the 8-9 matchup is sometimes the most difficult to predict, so take my advice and roll with the Aztecs reaching the round of 32.
Without being completely confident that #8 San Diego St will beat #9 St. John’s (even though they will), here is what the Red Storm need to do in order to play into the weekend.
The only way I can see the Red Storm advancing past their match-up against San Diego St. without Obekpa, is by going small. Coach Lavin has had success when he goes with a smaller lineup, as it forces tempo, and causes mismatches all over the court. With the smaller lineup and fast tempo, St. John’s will need to be able to knock down outside shots. Three of their players (D’Angelo Harrison, Rysheed Jordan, and Phil Greene IV) average more than 35% from beyond the arc and will need to hit multiple in order to force the Aztec’s out of their comfort zone. If St. John’s can play this game into the high 60s-70s it will give them the advantage—San Diego St. failed to reach the high 60s almost twenty times in the 2014-15 season.
Bottom line: I do not see a Steve Fisher coached team breaking down defensively, especially without St. John’s big-man and paint presence. The Aztecs advance in a lower scoring affair.
Dan Schalk is the head writer for MFST, you can follow him on Twitter @ffsportstalk
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