St. John's presents handicapping challenge

March 19, 2019 10:55 PM

Wednesday’s “play-in” game in the 2019 NCAA Tournament matching #11 seeds St. John’s and Arizona State (truTV, 9:10 p.m. ET) presents quite a handicapping challenge for bettors.

VSiN has talked often on these pages about the inconsistency of St. John’s. Its highlights include a 3-1 straight up regular-season record vs. #4 Dance seed Marquette, and #6 seed Villanova. Lowlights were ugly, many coming recently. Counting a 32-point loss to Marquette in the Big East tournament, the Red Storm’s last five point spread misses have been by 28.5 (Marquette), 11.5 (Xavier), 11.5 (DePaul), 15.5 (Xavier), and 18 points (Providence). 

When Big Dance point spreads were first posted Sunday evening, there was a clear sharp preference for Arizona State at pick-em, but for St. John’s at outlier stores that tested ASU as a two-point favorite. Game day public betting will determine if the number moves off the early-week resting place of ASU -1. 

*The case FOR betting St. John’s: this is about the best Chris Mullin and his squad could hope for in terms of a matchup. Both teams like to run the ball, ranking top 50 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted pace rankings. ASU has a mediocre defense by Dance standards, entering the week ranked #79 in Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings (points allowed, adjusted for possessions and schedule). This means that the talented scorers of St. John’s have a chance to control their own destiny against a vulnerable defense that hasn’t seen them first hand. 

At least, the door is open for the “best” of inconsistent St. John’s to appear. 

*The case AGAINST betting St. John’s: This isn’t currently a Dance-caliber team. As VSiN reported last week, the Red Storm had the worst Big East margin average over the final nine games of league play. That was before the Marquette mauling!

Both Pomeroy and the NCAA’s “NET” ranking have St. John’s well below standard. It’s tough to earn an at-large bid outside the top 50. Pomeroy ranked the Red Storm at #78 entering the new week, NET #73. 

Arizona State has also been inconsistent this season, but is in good form of late. No shame in an overtime loss to Oregon in the semifinals of the Pac 10 tournament played in Las Vegas. Oregon is priced in a virtual toss-up this week with #5 seed Wisconsin. Prior to that result (which was a point spread cover at the 40-minute mark), ASU had covered three in a row, and five of its last seven. That includes outright road upsets of Arizona, Oregon State, and Utah. 

If recent form rules the day, Arizona State “cheap” is a steal that could cover by double-digits. If St. John’s still has the focus and drive to exploit a favorable matchup, its version that outplayed Villanova and Marquette in composite during the regular season could certainly launch the Red Storm to a “round of 32” meeting with #6 seed Buffalo (another pace fiend). 

Good luck if you bet!

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