The Arizona Wildcats only have one game this week, a Saturday tilt vs. St. John’s at the Chase Center in San Francisco, which gives us extra time to zero in on their opponent.
So here are five things to know about the Red Storm.
“40 Minutes of Hell” has resurfaced at St. John’s under Mike Anderson
As outlined by ESPN, the Red Storm pursued Arizona State’s Bobby Hurley, Loyola-Chicago’s Porter Moser and Iona’s Tim Cluess for their head coaching position last offseason but were rebuffed.
That led St. John’s to turn to recently-fired Arkansas coach Mike Anderson to fill the vacancy, what many viewed as a curious hire at the time. His only other head coaching experience was at Missouri and UAB, far away from the Big Apple. And it’s not like Anderson was a rock star at Arkansas. His teams made just three trips to the NCAA Tournament in eight seasons.
Longtime New York sports radio personality Mike Francesa called St. John’s coaching search a “national embarrassment.”
Maybe the process was whack, but the result has been good. The Red Storm are 10-2 and play an uptempo brand of basketball that features some of the “40 Minutes of Hell” principles that made Arkansas one of the most feared programs in college basketball from the late 1980s to late 1990s. (Anderson was an assistant with the Razorbacks then.)
Ignited by a tough, aggressive defense that likes to press, St. John’s is playing at the No. 18 pace in the country and ranks 14th in the country in steal percentage and ninth in block percentage. The Red Storm are 30th in points per game (80.6) and 38th in defensive rating.
Their best win came against West Virginia in Madison Square Garden.
“We can bring a style of play that people in New York can appreciate,” Anderson told ESPN. “Blue-collar, getting after it, play with toughness, play with pace. A lot of coaches will say, ‘We’ll play fast.’ Well, we play fast. And it’s entertaining basketball. Kids can relate to it. Think about the players that play on playgrounds, they’ll be able to relate to it.”
Part of that toughness includes a strong presence on the offensive glass
The Red Storm have the 21st-highest offensive rebounding percentage in the country and should be a formidable test for an Arizona team whose self-proclaimed “Achilles heel” is controlling the glass.
Reserve big man Marcellus Earlington has the 10th-best offensive rebounding percentage in the country (17.0) and starter Josh Roberts isn’t that far behind (13.9).
The Red Storm’s star player is injured
Under Anderson, the Red Storm pride themselves on their depth. They regularly use 10 players. It will be tested Saturday if star guard Mustapha Heron is unable to play. The 6-foot-5 senior is questionable with a right ankle sprain and missed Wednesday’s game vs. Albany.
Heron (15.0 ppg) is the team’s second-leading scorer, capable of getting buckets at all three levels, especially at the 3-point line where he is shooting 41 percent.
If Heron cannot give it go, expect more shots for his running mate LJ Figueroa, a 6-foot-6 wing who is averaging 15.1 points per game and shooting 39 percent from 3.
An N.C. State transfer is now eligible
The Red Storm will be adding another player to their rotation Saturday, as N.C. State transfer Ian Steere is now eligible to play after NCAA transfer rules required him to sit out the fall semester.
Who knows what kind of impact he’ll make. The 6-foot-9 forward only appeared in one game before leaving the Wolfpack last season. SJU’s school-produced game notes say Steere “will give the Red Storm another dimension in the front court with his ability to score from multiple locations.”
The High Point, North Carolina native was a four-star prospect (No. 140 overall, according to 247Sports) out of high school and held offers from major-conference schools like Arkansas, Clemson, Connecticut, Florida State, Kansas, Louisville, Maryland, and Tennessee.
This will be St. Johns' first game in a different time zone
The Red Storm have only played two games outside New York this season and those were in nearby Connecticut, so the six-hour flight from the Empire State to San Francisco for Saturday’s game could throw them off their game.
Not to mention tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. PT, which is 10 p.m. in New York.