SBN's Slipper Still Fits and Rumble in The Garden have been hard at work breaking down this game all week and with the game just hours away, here are three of the most important questions with a Gonzaga slant.
3. What does the loss of D.J. Kennedy mean to St. John's?
6-foot-5 St. John's guard D.J. Kennedy is out for the season with an ACL injury and that certainly stands to hurt the Red Storm as described in a Q&A conducted by TSSF's Zach Bell and RitG's Pico.
Gonzaga vs. St. John's: A few good questions with Rumble in the Garden - The Slipper Still Fits
RitG: Possibly out-of-area rebounding. But I'm curious to see what the defense looks like in transition without Kennedy's hustle/ quickness; there isn't a player on the roster who's shown that they can replicate that who isn't already starting.
And what I think is that the Bulldogs will get more game than they're bargaining for, but some misses at the free throw line for the Johnnies could be the difference. Every player replacing Kennedy is a far less adept free throw shooter than D.J.
Interestingly enough, Kennedy had the highest defensive rebounding percentage on the team for the Red Storm in addition to the highest steal percentage so his absence will definitely be felt on the defensive end, but as the team's second most efficient scorer, it also takes away another shooter from a team that doesn't shoot it particularly well.
2. How will Gonzaga's frontcourt hold up?
Zach Bell wrote on TSSF that interior play will be important to this game and as he said in a Q&A at Rumble In The Garden, that begins with the play of Robert Sacre.
NCAA Tournament St. John's vs Gonzaga: 5 questions with the Slipper Still Fits - Rumble In The Garden
Gonzaga's frontcourt is a three headed monster. Robert Sacre headlines the trio standing at 7' tall. Still a relatively raw offensive player, Rob has improved mightily since arriving at Gonzaga but still has work to do. If he is able to get position, Rob can make the sliding hook shot. He's still susceptible to the double-team and at times falls back into the bad habits he brought with him to Gonzaga.
To put it lightly, getting position can still be a struggle for Sacre at times and doubling him can result in a range of undesired outcomes. However, one thing in Gonzaga's favor is that they have been a strong rebounding team relative to their opponents this year. It's just that to a Big East team, an average game from Gonzaga's interior players might feel like a walk in the park for a Big East team.
1. Are Gonzaga's guards tough enough to handle the Red Storm's combination of athleticism and defensive pressure?
Of course, this has probably been an underlying question for the Bulldogs all season and it will remain important against St. John's - they force opponents into an above average number of turnovers and as a team that doesn't shoot well without one of their most efficient shooters, turnovers and transition points will be vital for their chances.
And that has TSSF's Max Mandel nervous with St. John's looming.
It's Time to Dance: Can Zags Handle Toughness of St. John's - The Slipper Still Fits
While getting the ball in the paint will be the focus offensively, this game will come down to how well the Gonzaga guards handle the pressure defense from St. John's. While the combination of Stockton and Goodson has worked well over the past month, I'm not sure which of these guys will be able to thrive against this defense. With Stockton, I immediately look at his performances against Kansas St. and Memphis and cringe, because the Red Storm will bring that type of athleticism and physicality on the defensive end. Even though Meech Goodson has the natural strength and quickness to handle the defensive looks Gonzaga will see, I question whether his decision-making and ball control will be at a high enough level to be successful over 40 minutes.
If it's any consolation, the thing most immediately evident from watching early-season Stockton vs. early-season tournament Stockton was that he looked far more comfortable. That might have as much to do with his coach's growing confidence in him as his own confidence - his minutes have steadily increased over the course of the season to the point where he was a reliable option during the WCC championship.
However, perhaps more impressive is that his efficiency as a point guard has also increased during that time.
Increased minutes aren't always a recipe for success, but in this case they have resulted in improved play from Stockton with him creating assists more often while flattening out his turnover contributions a bit. Goodson hasn't shown the same sort of increased efficiency as Stockton as his minutes have trended downward, but Stockton's improved play might be a key to handling St. John's.