St. John’s at Duke

St. John’s (9-11) at Duke (17-3), 12:00 PM, ESPN

St. John's freshman Moe Harkless, pictured scoring two of his 32 points in his Big East debut against Providence on December 27th.

Duke had a nice win on Thursday against a Maryland team that is always fired up for the Blue Devils. They played their best road game of the year at Maryland (a 13-point win) and could go into a tough ACC stretch with a lot of confidence. After St. John’s, the Blue Devils have four days off before traveling to Virginia Tech, followed by a home game against Miami and then at North Carolina on February 8th. The Red Storm are very, very young and it shows in their results: wins over teams as good as Cincinnati and West Virginia, losses to teams as bad as Northeastern and Detroit. Winning in Cameron Indoor Stadium seems like way too tall an order for this young group.

Stat to watch: St. John’s field goal percentage (or Duke’s defense). Duke has obviously had some shaky defensive outings this year but they seem to be improving in general on that end, and it certainly showed at times on Wednesday night at Maryland. But Florida State shot over 60% in the second half against Duke at home, and the Blue Devils can’t afford to let St. John’s get in any kind of rhythm offensively. St. John’s has shot 50% or better just five times this year (they are 4-1 in those games). They’re a young team, but they’re talented and if the Red Storm hit a few shots early, they could get a shot of confidence that might make this closer than it should be.

Most important players: Seth Curry, Duke and Moe Harkless, St. John’s. Curry had a really nice start to the season for Duke, but the junior has been a no-show in ACC play, particularly in Duke’s road games (he’s averaging 10.7 points on the road but on 30% shooting). Just watching him on the court, it doesn’t feel like he’s had the same impact as he had earlier this year. It’s almost like even when he’s scoring, he’s still just a complementary player. He’s shot just 6-of-25 in the last two games and is in a six-game slump from three, hitting just 6-of-29 (21%) in six ACC games. Duke has been very good this year but a bit shaky against inferior ACC foes. If the Blue Devils can get Curry going in this game, it would be a great sign for them going forward.

Moe Harkless not only leads St. John’s in scoring but also the Big East in freshmen scoring (16.0 ppg). The 6-8 swingman (he’s listed as a guard/forward but is the tallest starter) also leads the Red Storm in rebounding with 8.6 a game and is the only St. John’s player to have started every game this year. In Big East games only, Harkless has been even better with 18.1 points per game on 51% shooting to go with 9.1 rebounds a game. He also has a team-high 19 blocks in conference games. He’s athletic and a bit of a slasher, which could give Duke trouble.

Random stat: St. John’s is literally the most inexperienced team in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy, with an average of just 0.56 years.

Prediction: Duke 82, St. John’s 62

Last week: 7-5

Season: 84-31 (21-12 ACC)


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