by Jake Zimmer
On Wednesday, the St. John’s Red Storm will try to knock the Providence Friars down a peg in conference standings. What’s at stake? For St. John’s, it’s for relevance in a conference that has no shortage of talent; and validating that their impressive statistics in offensive tempo are worthwhile for its competitors to fear. For Providence, it’s about proving that they’ve righted the ship after a 7-6 start to the year, and corroborating the notion that their “humbling” losses to Penn, Northwestern, Long Beach State, and Charleston were just flukes. After wins against Georgetown, DePaul, and Marquette, Ed Cooley & the Friars are out for vengeance of all that doubted them through their tough times in November and December.
It’s a matchup that many will consider under-the-radar, but will likely have some heavy implications on BIG EAST standings. Let’s go #InsideTheNumbers for the Friars’ meeting against the Red Storm on Wednesday.
+ 1.5 – Providence’s point margin between their 4 BIG EAST opponents so far. After steamrolling Georgetown in 76-60 fashion (+16), their trip to the Midwest yielded two slim victories, knocking off DePaul and Marquette by one point each. After a 70-58 loss to Butler, Providence’s margin was slashed from what could’ve been double-digits (as high as 18 points) to just + 1.5. The Friars’ loss to Butler – then the 6th-best team in the nation – seemed to drain them of any energy they had remaining from the road trip against DePaul and Marquette.
Head coach Ed Cooley thinks the fatigue of playing two straight games that ended with a one-point differential – one of which ended in overtime – certainly played into it: “I feel that my team didn’t have an opportunity to rest to play a high-caliber team like that. “
A tad bit alarming to hear a BIG EAST coach blame a short rest-period for a loss, no?
When pressed a bit harder by the tough-loving Rhode Island media, Cooley clarified. “We didn’t lose the game because we were tired…we lost because we played a high-caliber, very-well coached team.”
He went on to say “Losing is the worst thing ever.” We hear you, Ed.
0 – wins that the Friars have picked up so far this year on a Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday. Cue the support from Tim Kurkjian followers and analytical zealots. Not necessarily a terrible statistic…if you exclude the 5 losses that Providence picked up on those dates so far.
While some may be trying to connect some conspiracy-rooted dots, the Friars have looked horrid during the mid-to-late weeknight games so far. Their November 13th tilt against Northwestern (on a Wednesday night, mind you) may have initially looked like a one-off fluke, but a one-point loss to Long Beach State (on Thanksgiving) and a 63-55 loss to Charleston that Friday caused many to start doubting the Friars’ ability to even be a contender in BIG EAST play – let alone the NCAA tournament.
You can bet that Providence wishes all its matchups were on Tuesday’s (4-1), Saturday’s (5-1) and Sunday’s (1-0). A 10-2 record? Sign us up.
15 – on average, the duration of a St. John’s offensive possession, in seconds. While this may not be a revealing statistic for some, the Red Storm’s pace has earned them the title of the 9th-fastest offensive pace of all Division I college basketball teams this year. To put it into perspective, here are some teams at both ends of the spectrum…
- 6th-fastest: Memphis (14.9 seconds, a whole 0.1 second quicker than the Johnnies)
- 14th-fastest: #1 Gonzaga (15.2 seconds)
- 16th-fastest: BIG EAST counterpart, DePaul (15.4 seconds)
- 78th-fastest: (because, why not?) #3 Duke (16.5 seconds)
- 344th-fastest: BIG EAST counterpart, #5 Butler (19.9 seconds)
- 352nd-fastest: Virginia, the defensive powerhouse who just fell out of the AP rankings (21.0 seconds)
This is not a new style of play for first-year Red Storm head coach Mike Anderson, who was relieved of his head coaching duties at Arkansas last year. Despite finishing with a below-average 18-16 record, the Razorbacks finished with the 29th-fastest offensive tempo in Division I.
Why does this work so well for St. John’s? There could be many factors at play, but it seems as though the players are finally buying into a new system after the departure of former Johnnies ringleader Chris Mullin. Take it from junior LJ Figueroa, believed to be the leader of the Red Storm this year: “The grit and togetherness we have, I feel like no matter what — down or up — no matter what the score is, we don’t panic. We just try to get it on the defensive side of the floor, have that type of mindset, don’t let your man score on you, play for one another.”
It also may have something to do with the next statistic…
40.3% – St. John’s bench participation score, which is a product of the 19th-most involved bench in the nation. To clarify, KenPom’s “bench minutes” statistic assumes that the 5 players who started the game are the 5 that play the most minutes in any given game. All remaining minutes are classified as “bench minutes.” Essentially, Red Storm starters are spending less than 60% of the team’s minutes on the court, which testifies to Mike Anderson’s willingness (and ability) to squeeze all the talent he can out of nearly every player on the team.
No team in the BIG EAST threatens St. John’s bench utilization – Seton Hall is their closest contender with 37.1% (44th nationally), while Marquette has the next-highest bench minutes at 34.1% (97th nationally). After that? Providence, whose 31.4% bench minutes rank 170th in the nation. No BIG EAST team is as deep as St. John’s.
Back in November, I spoke with Mike Anderson after the Red Storm beat UMass in the consolation game at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament in Connecticut. I asked him if we should continue to expect this kind of depth throughout the year, and without hesitation, he replied “Absolutely. You’re going to see this all year.” He was right.
12 – the margin of victory that Mike Anderson enjoyed when he outcoached Ed Cooley last year.
Wait…what? Really? Last year?
Both Providence and Arkansas had disappointing exits in their respective conference tournaments in 2019. Providence surprised many with a commanding 80-57 victory over Butler in the first round of the BIG EAST tournament, only to drop a 73-62 tilt to Villanova the next day. The Friars, who missed out on the NCAA tournament (deservedly so), drew Arkansas in the first round of the NIT. Their fearless leader? Mike Anderson, whose Razorbacks were swiftly defeated by Florida in the first round of the SEC tournament. (For what it’s worth…the Gators later endured a heartbreaking 3-point loss to conference champion Auburn in the SEC Semifinal…Auburn went on to trounce Tennessee by 20 in the conference title game.)
Although Providence had a 58.5% chance of winning the game when it tipped off, it was never really close. Arkansas got off to a 24-15 start, and their win probability was over 73% at just the 13-minute mark. The Razorbacks paraded out of the Ocean State with an 84-72 win, and advanced to the next round of the NIT. Arkansas had 4 players in double-figures; sophomore Mason Jones put up 18 points, 12 of them by way of the 3-point ball.