It gets real on Wednesday night.
And real means stopping a player, and an offense, off to hot starts.
Through two games, St. John’s wing Julian Champagnie has scored 42 combined points while leading the team to a 2-0 record. Last season Champagnie was selected to the first-team All-Big East and led the conference in scoring with 19.8 points per game.
The 6’8,” lengthy guard/forward has quickly become one of the most lethal scorers in the country. Behind him is a supporting cast that has four other players averaging double digits this season. The Red Storm’s offense ranks first in the nation with an average of 105 points per game. They will be the first major test of the new era in Bloomington.
“I think this is a (NCAA) tournament game,” Forward Trayce Jackson-Davis said of the upcoming matchup. “It’s one that’s going to look really good on your resume because St John’s is a really good team, and they’re coming into a packed Assembly Hall, so we’re gonna have to go out and we’re gonna compete at a high level.”
St. John’s head coach Mike Anderson and his players, like the Hoosiers, also pride themselves on their defense. They utilize a full-court approach to pressure teams and keep them on their toes. The speed of their four starting guards allows them to quickly cut off passing lanes and get easy points on the fast break. Through their first two games, their stingy defense has forced turnovers on 21.4% of their defensive possessions.
However, head coach Mike Woodson wants his team to take those defensive gambles and use them to their advantage on offense.
“I mean, we used to lick our chops back in the day when we got pressed or, you know, teams played half court zone against us because we kind of liked it,” said the first-year head coach of how he enjoyed the full-court press in his playing days.
“And, so, you know, I’m telling our guys, hell, you get pressed, you know, you’ve got to make them pay on the other end for pressing. So, I mean, it might cause us to speed up and play a little more up tempo, but that’s okay. I mean, it’s a part of it, you know. I mean, I don’t want to break the press and just play half court. If we’ve got an opportunity to go score the ball, that’s what I want us to do.”
So far this season, the IU offense has done a solid job of limiting turnovers. They have averaged 11.5 turnovers per game compared to the 18.5 turnovers their opponents are averaging. The Hoosiers will once again need to limit their turnovers and not let the Red Storm pressure dictate the game.
The duo of Rob Phinisee and Xavier Johnson holds the key to that. The two-point guards have combined for nine turnovers to nine assists in the first two games. Johnson is known to play on the wild side and throw the ball away at times. If he does that on Wednesday, St. John’s will be ready to capitalize off his mistakes.
“What we’re gonna have to do, especially with some of the guards, like X and Rob, is just be patient with the ball and just make the right plays. And, I that they will and then it’s an easy break if we breach the press,” Jackson-Davis said of the duo. “So, we’ve been working on it a lot in practice, so we just have to execute.”
Whether the Hoosiers win or lose, the team will learn much more about where they truly stand three games into the season.
“It’s going to be an interesting game to see where we are. I’m kind of anxious just to get to the game to see how we’re going to fare against their traps and getting the ball up the floor and doing what we do,” Woodson added.
(Indiana and St. John’s tip at 9 p.m. Eastern on FS1)
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