The Arizona Wildcats and St. John’s Red Storm are both looking for big signature victories before conference play commences.
TV Schedule: Saturday, December 21, 2019 at 10:00 PM ET, ESPN2
Location: Chase Center, San Francisco, CA
The Arizona Wildcats have hit a small snag in their non-conference schedule. The St. John’s Red Storm seems like the perfect opportunity to open things back up.
Sean Miller’s squad has lost two of their last three, albeit against great teams (Baylor and Gonzaga). Between those contests, Arizona dominated Nebraska-Omaha, but the Johnnies should prove to be closer to the average competition level the Wildcats will face in Pac-12 play.
Before their recent stumbles, the non-conference play had been going better than expected for Arizona. The freshmen were quickly coalescing, with Zeke Nnaji unexpectedly emerging as an immediate star. Nnaji is averaging 15.9 points per game, shooting 68.6 percent from the field.
Nico Mannion, especially, has managed to live up to the hype he arrived with to campus. He’s averaging 14.3 points and 6.5 assists per game during his freshman campaign. He struggled against Gonzaga, though; while he dished 10 assists, he scored just seven points and turned the ball over three times while committing four personal fouls.
The competition level was always in question for the Wildcats, as the team’s best wins are still over Illinois and Wake Forest. Beating St. John’s won’t necessarily flip that narrative.
The Red Storm enter the game with an identical 10-2 record, yet hasn’t come close to approaching the hype around Arizona. They have won six straight, including a close victory over an NCAA Tournament contender in West Virginia.
The first two losses of the Mike Anderson era have been uglier than Arizona’s, though: a close loss to Vermont (who has since show significant warts) and a not-so-close loss to Arizona’s in-state rivals, the Arizona State Sun Devils.
Injuries could be a big storyline ahead of this game. St. John’s will likely be without senior Mustapha Heron, who is nursing an ankle injury. He hasn’t practiced for most of the week; the senior is averaging 15 points per game.
Mike Anderson said Mustapha Heron still not practicing. Has done some shooting. Unclear if he will play Saturday against Arizona. #sjubb
— Zach Braziller (@NYPost_Brazille) December 19, 2019
Arizona, meanwhile, will be without senior Stone Gettings, who suffered a concussion almost a month ago. He has finally cleared the concussion protocol but appears to be aiming for a return when conference play kicks off.
Also, it will be safe to expect a lot of points in this one, as these two programs are sporting some of the more potent offenses in the sport. The Wildcats average 85.1 points per game, sixth-best in the country. St. John’s, meanwhile, averages 80.6 points per game, which ranks 35th in the nation.
This game will be played at a neutral site, but that neutral site is the Chase Center in San Francisco (home of the Golden State Warriors), which is obviously significantly closer to Tucson, Arizona than New York City; this should effectively feel like a home game for the Wildcats. This might be the best basketball Chase Center frequenters see all year (sorry).
Arizona and St. John’s are both set for course corrections, albeit in opposite directions. The score will be closer if Heron plays, but Arizona should take this one regardless.
Prediction: Arizona 85, St. John’s 70