What to look for if you decide to bet on St. John’s this season

It’s still too early to tell whether St. John’s will be a team to back or fade in the 2019-20 college basketball season.

Three early victories as double-digit favorites were followed by a flunked litmus test this past Saturday against Vermont, when the Red Storm lost, 70-68, as two-point home favorites.

Potential weaknesses were exposed by the Catamounts, who didn’t play particularly well themselves in that nailbiter. Bettors should be aware that St. John’s …

  • Shot just 5 of 19 on 3-pointers, suggesting a lack of confidence to launch and a lack of accuracy from shooters.
  • Totaled only six assists on 20 made field goals, hinting at too much one-on-one play and not enough team basketball.
  • Turned the ball over 16 times, compared to just 11 for Vermont. That’s despite home friendly whistles that called 25 fouls on the Catamounts, only 16 on the Red Storm. Turnovers could be a real issue for St. John’s away from home when calls aren’t going their way.
  • Let Vermont shoot 53 percent on two-pointers, which means better teams will have it even easier inside the arc.

Through four games (with kenpom.com rankings entering Tuesday in parentheses), St. John’s (93) has faced Mercer (200), Central Connecticut State (348), New Hampshire (314) and Vermont (76). That’s three cupcakes, then a team rated better than the Johnnies but not NCAA Tournament caliber.

The pre-conference schedule won’t be so easy the rest of the way.

Up next, Columbia (148) graces the Wednesday schedule, followed by Arizona State (78) in a weekend tournament at the Mohegan Sun, then either Virginia (3) or Massachusetts (194) the second day, Wagner (337), West Virginia (52), Brown (189), Albany (163) and Arizona (11) on a neutral court in San Francisco before Big East play begins Dec. 31.

To properly anticipate league performance, handicappers should pay close attention to what happens this weekend in Connecticut, and then versus West Virginia and Arizona. Any game versus top-100 opponent is particularly relevant. Entering the new week, St. John’s nine brethren in the Big East were all rated in the kenpom’s top 70:

Villanova (12), Seton Hall (16), Marquette (19), Butler (20), Xavier (25), Providence (30), Creighton (40), DePaul (65) and Georgetown (70).

Rankings will be in flux all season, but not so much that any sort of league-wide collapse is imminent. St. John’s is likely to be the least-respected team in the Big East out of the gate, and may stay that way in a brutally tough conference all season.

St. John’s could shock the world and crack the top 50, yet still be only seventh best!

For now, the market has been reasonably in sync. St. John’s is 2-2 against the spread (covering its first two, failing its last two). If you want to bet smart on or against the Johnnies this season, continually evaluate their in-game skill sets and point-spread performance.

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