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St. John’s expert previews Arizona game, makes a score prediction

Columbia v St John’s Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats will wrap up their non-conference season Saturday at 8 p.m. MST against St. John’s at the Chase Center in San Francisco. Both enter with a 10-2 record, though Arizona opens as a double-digit favorite.

We caught up with Norman Rose of RumbleInTheGarden.com, SB Nation’s St. John’s site, to get more insight on the Red Storm.

Here’s the Q&A.

What are expectations for St. John’s this season and how have they lived up to them so far?

Generally, the expectations were fairly low for the Red Storm. There were a couple of good players coming back, but a roster filled with uncertainty -- from players that might not have been eligible, to transfers, to players who barely saw the court last season. Reasonable minds felt they would lose around four non-conference game, and that there were a number of warm-up games that should have been essentially gimmes.

The team has lived up to expectations, not quite exceeding them; the win over West Virginia was a pleasant surprise, the loss to Vermont was not a terrible loss, and other than that things have met expectations, even if the devil in the details raises some questions.

What has stood out, both good and bad, about first-year coach Mike Anderson so far?

Mike Anderson certainly has a system, and while it has wrinkles, fans know what to expect from the team. And they knew what to expect coming in; at each of his previous stops — UAB, Missouri and Arkansas — he has preached a high-pressure style.

On court, he has coached a team that has lived up to expectations. The effort is there, and longtime fans would say that is perhaps different than the previous two regimes. I think teasing out actual “I give a damn” effort from “what on earth does coach want me to do?” is harder than some would think, but mostly the team has shown more full-bore pep than, say, last year’s side.

The team has been in pretty much every game. The coach preaches a lot of the effort bromides that fans love to hear, and the players look to have bought in to what he’s selling (except Eli Wright, who transferred and then left his transfer location, Western Kentucky).

On the other hand, St. John’s is still figuring out how to play a skill game. Some of that is pure talent of the team—some players just don’t have the skill set, others played next to more talented players in the past—but some of it is bad shots and the desire to always push the pace. In particular, the team’s two-point shooting has been pretty bad, and some of those issues come down to shot choice.

What are St. John’s strengths and weaknesses?

Strengths: energetic. Force turnovers. Depth is competitive. They’re quick. They communicate well defensively and create chaos.

Weaknesses: team has offensive shooting lulls, covered up by their ability to score in transition. They’re not going to shoot themselves back into a game on a consistent basis.

Mustapha Heron appears to be questionable for Saturday’s game. What would it mean for the Red Storm if he is unable to play?

Heron has been a little bit of an enigma this year, struggling to score consistently, especially away from the home confines of Carnesecca Arena. Heron provides both actual outside shooting and the ability to drive in and bully his way to the line. That said, his game can be predictable, and he’s been frustrated when he cannot get calls against similarly athletic foes.

For all his up and down play, without him, the Red Storm struggle to have a takeover scorer on the floor at all, where other teams have three, maybe more takeover scorers — the kind of player who can isolate on an opponent and create points multiple times in a game, the kind an opponent really has to adjust to.

Aside from Heron, which players should Arizona fans know about?

LJ Figueroa is, when best utilized, one of those everywhere, jack-of-all-trades players that is hard to prepare for. He is long, quick, will defend on the perimeter and battle a little inside, is very good at defending inbounds plays, can shoot threes, can get to the basket.

Rasheem Dunn is a jet on the floor. He can be inconsistent, sloppy, but he can also be explosive. Marcellus Earlington is a former defensive end who brings physicality to the floor. Josh Roberts is an agile, fast shot blocker. Julian Champagnie is a smart, composed freshman. Greg WIlliams, Jr. has great hops and is figuring out his game. Nick Rutherford is notn a great scorer, but he is tough and will defend.

What are the keys to the game for St. John’s?

Create chaos for Arizona’s ballhandlers, make outside shots, and maintain composure.

Score prediction?

Arizona, 79-68.