Utah Valley has been rolling. The Wolverines have started off conference play with a perfect 3-0 record. The Wolverines swept California Baptist and won an instant thriller against Seattle U. Both CBU and Seattle are no joke either; they are both well coached and have some All-WAC caliber players. This weekend was supposed to be the Wolverines bye week, and initially it was going to be.
However, take into consideration a few things. The Wolverines only played one game last weekend in Seattle. In two weeks time, they were supposed to travel to take on Chicago State. As we all know by now, the Cougars aren’t finishing out their season. And, since Utah Valley is finally starting to piece things together with a full squad, continuity and consistency are essential.
That is what led to the scheduling of Big East opponent St. John’s. In a year like this, every game counts. Mark Madsen and his team know this as well.
“Games are hard to get this season,” Madsen said. “Games against top opponents are tough to get. It’s the pandemic that everyone’s dealing with. We want to improve as a team and to get better by playing against great teams and great programs.”
Utah Valley isn’t just in the Big Apple for sight-seeing, either. The Wolverines want to make a statement this weekend and show people that they are serious.
A Look at the Red Storm
St. John’s has a historically great program. In fact, the Red Storm rank in the top-10 in total wins amongst Division I teams with 1,872. They play in the Big East along side national powerhouse programs such as Villanova and the University of Connecticut (UCONN).
The Red Storm currently are 8-7 overall. Looks can be deceiving, though. St. John’s is currently a top-100 team in the Ken Pomeroy rankings; checking in at No. 82. Their schedule is the 62nd hardest in the country, and it doesn’t get any easier playing in the Big East. The Red Storm do a great job of winning at home though. Six of their eight wins have happened in Carnesecca Arena.
Julian Champagnie leads St. John’s in both scoring (20.0) and rebounds (7.2) per game. Champagnie is a nightmare match up for anyone. He does about everything on the court, including playing multiple positions. At 6’8, he is extremely tough to guard. Outside of Champagnie, St. John’s has a very balanced squad. Starting backcourt duo Greg Williams Jr. and Posh Alexander average 10.9 and 9.9 points per game, respectively.
Lining up at center for the Red Storm is Pearl River Community College transfer Isaih Moore. He puts up 8.6 points a contest and pulls down 5.2 boards. Moore also leads the team in field goal percentage, shooting the ball at 49 percent.
Head coach Mike Anderson is in his second season at the helm at St. John’s. In his first season, the Red Storm finished 17-15. Coach Anderson has never had a losing season in his 18 seasons of being a Division I basketball coach. That record was close to being broke last season, and might be in even more jeopardy this season.
St. John’s also claim to be New York’s team. They have a legitimate case as well because the New York Knicks can’t seem to do anything right nowadays.
Keys for Utah Valley
As mentioned above, the Wolverines are starting to find their mojo. Despite a bumpy non-conference slate and dealing with health issues, Mark Madsen has finally been able to field his full squad, and they look good. This is no easy task ahead of the Wolverines though, and they’re excited for this opportunity to play.
“St. John’s is a great team and great program. They’re well-coached. They have a lot of talent.” Madsen said when asked about St. Johns.
Coming off of a career game at Seattle University, which saw him earn WAC Player of the Week honors, big man Fardaws Aimaq thinks that one of the big keys for the Wolverines will be controlling the rebounds.
“We will look to slow them down in transition and play at our pace,” Aimaq said. “Defensively, we will look to be aggressive and make them take tough shots The team that controls the glass tomorrow is the one that will win.”
It has been simple for Utah Valley this season. Get it inside to Fardaws Aimaq and Evan Cole. When opposing teams pack the middle, let Jamison Overton or Trey Woodbury take over and create for either themselves or others. St. John’s will most likely attempt to pack the paint on defense, much like Seattle did. If that’s the case, Utah Valley will need to hit outside shots to open up the middle for Aimaq and Cole.
Both teams love to get out into transition and play at a frenetic pace. Whichever team is able to control the rebounds will be in a good position to win this game. This is a great chance for Utah Valley to pick up a statement win and continue to ride their wave of momentum going into the final stretch of the conference play and the season.
You can catch the game on FS1. Tipoff is set for 2:00pm MST.