With next week’s clash against No. 19 North Carolina looming on the horizon, No. 4 Duke will travel to the Big Apple to take on St. John’s at Madison Square Garden Saturday at noon. The Blue Zone gives three keys to the game for the Blue Devils.

Limit Turnovers

After starting the season 10-2, St. John’s has lost its last 11 games since beginning conference play and is still searching for an identity on the hardwood. However, the Blue Devils should not be waltzing into Madison Square Garden expecting an easy win. Despite their lowly record, the Red Storm have held their own against some of the nation’s top teams. In the month of January, they lost by five and six points in their two matchups with No. 6 Xavier, and fell by just seven points to No. 1 Villanova.

The Red Storm's ability to force turnovers has enabled them to stay close in big games. St. John's ranks ninth in the nation in opponent turnovers, forcing 17.6 per game. In their matchup with Villanova, which only averages 10.6 turnovers per game— thirteenth-best in the nation— they forced 17 turnovers. The Blue Devils, who have struggled to hold onto the ball at times, will likely have their hands full against the Red Storm. To stave off an upset, taking care of the ball will be a top priority.

Exploit the Size Advantage

St. John’s only has one player on its roster listed above 6-foot-9, junior forward Tariq Owens. Duke, on the other hand, has four, including freshman stars Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. Duke has had a size advantage for much of the season and has capitalized thus far. The Blue Devils are second in the nation with 43.1 per game, while the Red Storm grab a mere 34.2 rebounds per game.

Bagley and Carter will likely try to exploit their height advantage to get good, high-percentage looks underneath the basket. Defensively, their presence in the paint may force the Red Storm into taking more outside shots, which has been a major weakness for them throughout the season.

Contain Shamorie Ponds

St. John’s has struggled this season on the offensive end, averaging just 72.3 points per game, but the efforts of guard Shamorie Ponds have made a major impact. The sophomore has been a reliable scoring option, averaging 19.7 points per game to go along with 4.7 assists. Ponds has especially been dominant against elite opponents, dropping 31 on Xavier and erupting for 37 points against Villanova. With this ability to rise to the occasion, Ponds will be a focal point for the Blue Devils defense. 

Most of Ponds’s scoring production comes from near the basket, as he is shooting a dismal 21.5% from three-point range. However, he has not shied away from pulling the trigger, with 135 three-point shots attempted. This is a potential weakness in his game for Duke’s defense to exploit and expose.

The team as a whole is only shooting just 31.6 percent from deep, so if the Blue Devils are able to protect the paint and force the Red Storm to settle for the outside shot, the odds will be in their favor.