NCAA Tournament First Four Betting Pick: Arizona State Sun Devils vs. St. John’s Storm

Joshua Clarke

While the field of 64 doesn’t officially start until Thursday, the NCAA tournament enters its second day of contests on Wednesday as two play-in games are on the docket. Of the two, the matchup between the St. John’s Red Storm (21-12) and the Arizona State Sun Devils (22-10) is especially intriguing. It is a matchup of 7thin the Big East (St. John’s) versus number 2 in the Pac-12 (Arizona State). Still, this is a pretty even matchup across the board and should make for an exciting game Wednesday night. The winner of this matchup will face off with number 6 ranked Buffalo in the West division. Tipoff for the matchup between the Red Storm and the Sun Devils is scheduled for 9:10 pm ET and is being played at the UD Arena in Dayton, Ohio.

In the matchup, the Arizona State Sun Devils come in as 1.5-point favorites playing at the neutral site. The over/under for this game is set at 152.5 points.

By The Numbers

On the offensive side of the ball, both of these teams have been pretty decent all season long. St. John’s ranks 53rd in the nation in scoring averaging 78.1 points per game while Arizona State comes in at 58th averaging 77.7 points. For St. John’s, they are especially tough from behind the arc where they are averaging 8.5 threes per game (tied for 89th) and shoot 36.1% from long range (98th in the nation).

Defensively, neither one of these teams is especially spectacular. Technically, Arizona gets the nod in scoring defense, but they are still ranked 224th in the nation and averaging 73.1 points per game. For St. John’s, they come in at 262nd allowing 74.8 points per game. Where Arizona State does dominate, though, is on the boards. They are averaging 39.97 rebounds per game, which ranks 15th overall. Against St. John’s, their advantage in the interior could loom large.

St. John’s Trying To Show They Are NCAA Tourney Worthy

It has been a tale of two halves for coach Chris Mullins and the St. John’s Red Storm. They started the season off 12-0, seemingly dominating everyone that they played (only 4 of those games were within 10 points). Since then, though, they have gone 9-12 including losing 4 of their last 5 matchups. Still, hoping to make the pool of 64, they are hoping they can find their winning ways on Wednesday.

Leading the way for the Red Storm is junior guard Shamorie Ponds. On the season, Ponds is averaging 19.5 points on 45.5% shooting from the field. In addition to his scoring, Ponds is averaging 4.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.6 steals per game.

Outside of Ponds, St. John’s has four other players who are averaging double digits. Mustapha Heron (14.9 points, 4.7 rebounds), LJ Figueroa (14.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.8 steals), Marvin Clark II (10.8 points, 5.4 rebounds) and Justin Simon (10.4 points, 5 rebounds, 3.2 assists) have all had really nice seasons. After those five, though, there is a big drop off as only one other player is averaging more than 2.3 points per game.

Arizona State Trying To Represent Pac-12 In Tourney

While St. John’s finished the season down, the Arizona State Sun Devils finished the season relatively strong winning 6 of their last 8. Both of their losses were against Oregon (who they beat earlier in the year), with the last one being a 79-75 overtime loss. Trying to ride some momentum, they are hoping they can be a tough matchup for the Red Storm.

Leading the way for Arizona State this season has been guard Luguentz Dort. On the season, Dort is averaging 16.1 points on 40.3% shooting. He is also averaging 4.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game. Guards Remy Martin (13.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.3 steals) and Rob Edwards (11.3 points, 3.1 rebounds) have also had nice seasons.

The player who might be the difference maker in this game, though, is forward Zylan Cheatham. The 6’8” senior is averaging a double-double with 11.8 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. He is also averaging 3.3 assists while shooting 53.9% from the field. He could be a matchup nightmare for the smaller St. John’s team.

Arizona State Exploits St. John’s Weakness

As I just mentioned, St. John’s is not the best team in the tournament when it comes to an interior presence. They 306th in the nation in rebounds per game (32.55) and generally can get swallowed up by opposing dominant big men. This is where I think Arizona State’s Zylan Cheatham comes up so big in this one. If he dominates the interior on both sides of the ball, I don’t think that St. John’s will hang for long. Both teams have good offenses and adequate defenses, but it is the interior presence that will define the outcome. For my money, I am taking Arizona State despite laying the 1.5 points.