First Four: St. John’s vs Arizona State Prediction
St. John’s vs Arizona State Preview
In what could be the best of the First Four games, St. John’s (21-12) meets Arizona State (22-10) on Wednesday night.
Following a regular season that saw the Johnnies record 21 victories, the team heard its name called during the final region revealed during Sunday night’s Selection Show–this will be the first time under head coach and former NBA-legend Chris Mullin, that St. John’s will be in the March Madness field.
The Sun Devils are one of three Pac-12 teams in the field, along with Oregon and Washington. Arizona State lost to Oregon, 79-75, on Friday in the Pac-12 semifinals, and entered Sunday on the tournament bubble.
ASU plays in the First Four for the second time in as many NCAA Tournaments. Syracuse beat Arizona State, 60-56, in the 2018 First Four in Dayton.
Both teams met last season in a game that MFST previewed and predicted–Arizona State prevailed 82-70, in a game that was closer than the final score indicated.
If ASU is going to beat the Red Storm again–they will need to keep their main man in check.
The Johnnies, one of just two teams in the Big East to feature five players averaging double figures, are led by two-time First Team All-Big Easy selection Shamorie Ponds. Ponds, one of just five players in program history to earn multiple First Team All-Big East honors, ranks third in the Big East in scoring while placing second in assists (5.2 per game) and first in steals (2.6 per game). He also leads the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.6-to-1.
Outside of Ponds, Mustapha Heron is a guy that can go off at anytime. Heron is lethal from three-point range (42 percent this season) and is second on the team in scoring (14.9 ppg). Heron transferred from Auburn and scored in double figures 22 of 30 games this season–if he get hot from deep, lookout.
Arizona State was considered a bubble team, but if you look at their resume, it was impressive. ASU had 11 wins over Quad 1-2 teams, more than any other team considered “on the bubble.” Among those wins were impressive ones over then-No. 1 Kansas, Mississippi State and eventual Mountain West conference champion Utah State.
What put the Sun Devils chances into question were losses to Washington State, Princeton and Utah.
Based on their history, the Sun Devils look to have a good shot at winning their opener because this season they are 8-1 after a loss and have played better when their backs were against the wall and were desperate for a win and they are coming off the loss to the Ducks.
The team is paced by Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, Luguentz Dort, who led the team with 16.1 points and 1.6 steals per game. He added 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per night to do-it-all for the Sun Devils. Only four games this season did Dort not score in double figures–it’s almost a guarantee he will against SJU.
Zylan Cheatham is the X-Factor for ASU–he will be a force in the paint. The senior forward averages a double-double with 11.8 points and 10.4 rebounds per night and the Johnnies will struggle to match him up 1-on-1.
Ponds vs Dort
This matchup will be one to watch all night–the player who does more (score, assist, prevent turnovers) will translate to the winner.
The winner advances to face No. 6 Buffalo (31-3) on Friday in regional play in Tulsa, Okla. That would be one of the more intriguing matchups of the tournament because it is the school Hurley coached before leaving (or spurning depending on who you ask) to take the job at ASU.
Buffalo won the Mid-American Conference tournament and was the first-place finisher in the regular season.
LINE: -1 ASU
Dan’s Bet: +1.5 St. John’s
Score Prediction: St. John’s 81 Arizona State 78