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Cal Men’s Basketball Preview: St. John’s Red Storm in the Legends Classic

Golden Bears are 8-8 all-time against Big East sides

NCAA Basketball: Pac-12 Media Day
Paris Austin scored 20 against Hampton. The junior leads Cal in points, assists and blocks after two games.
D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

This weekend the California Golden Bears (1-1) men’s basketball team traveled to Brooklyn, N.Y., ahead of tonight’s competition against the St. John’s Red Storm (3-0) in the Legends Classic tournament. The competition is the first meeting between the Golden Bears and the Red Storm.

St. John’s enters the semifinal contest with an undefeated record, having scored an average of 81 points a game this preseason. In its last Legends Classic regional-site game Friday night, the Red Storm crushed the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 84-65, its most lopsided road win since 1974—when the two East Coast teams first squared off. The Queens, N.Y., team is looking for its first Thanksgiving tournament win since 2010.

Cal, who lost its season-opener against the Yale Bulldogs in Shanghai, is looking to start its first winning streak. The Golden Bears’ starters — Paris Austin, Justice Sueing, Andre Kelly, Darius McNeill and Matt Bradley — are expected to play significant minutes Monday night. All five starters for Cal scored double-digits in last week’s 80-66 victory over the Hampton Pirates.

Projected St. John’s Starters

Mustapha Heron, junior guard: 22.7 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game, 1.7 assists per game

Shamorie Ponds, junior guard: 16.3 points per game, 2.7 rebounds per game, 4.3 assists per game

LJ Figueroa, sophomore guard/forward: 14.3 points per game, 7.7 rebounds per game, three assists per game

Marvin Clark II, redshirt senior forward: 10.7 points per game, four rebounds per game, 1.7 assists per game

Justin Simon, redshirt junior guard: 9.7 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per game, 3.7 assists per game

Key Red Storm Reserves

Mikey Dixon, redshirt sophomore guard: 5.7 points per game, 0.3 rebounds per game, one assist per game

Bryan Trimble, Jr., sophomore guard: 0.7 points per game, 1.3 rebounds per game, zero assists per game

Golden Strategies

  1. Stifle Mustapha Heron. The junior transfer from the Auburn Tigers has been having a record preseason for the Red Storm. Heron scored 16 of St. John’s 17 points in the first seven minutes of the second half against Rutgers—icing the game for his side. The guard ended the night with 27 points including four out of five attempts from beyond the arc.
  2. Maintain possession of the ball. St. John’s is averaging nine steals per game after three games. Cal will want to avoid the sloppy play it showed in Shanghai against Yale when it gave up seven steals to the Ivy League side.
  3. Grab every board. Last season, St. John’s ranked as one of the worst teams in the nation in rebound margins. After three matches, its leading rebounder LJ Figueroa has grabbed just a little under eight rebounds per game. The Bears should take advantage of any second-chance opportunities and seek to come out ahead in points inside the paint.

Following the Legends

Monday’s matchup is the first of two championship-round contests for the Bears in the Legends Classic. They will face the Virginia Commonwealth Rams or the Temple Owls on Tuesday.

The Golden Bears played only one regional-site match this tournament. Cal canceled its last scheduled game against the Detroit Mercy Titans due to the Butte County wildfires and the resulting poor air quality in Berkeley, Calif. Officials from the Legends Classic tournament, Detroit Mercy and Cal are looking to reschedule last week’s scheduled match.

Cal’s match against St. John’s will be broadcast live from Barclays Center on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. ET. The play-by-play analysis will also be available on the California Golden Bears Sports Network on KGO 810 AM and the TuneIn radio application.