The Gavitt Tipoff Games, an annual college basketball battle between the Big East and the Big Ten, has so far been dominated by the latter. But I think that changes Thursday when St. John’s welcomes Nebraska to Queens.
So far, a DePaul victory over Minnesota on Monday is the only victory for the Big East. Penn State defeated Butler on Monday, Northwestern cruised by Georgetown and Purdue beat Marquette on Tuesday and Iowa thumped Seton Hall on Wednesday.
The Gavitt Tipoff Games are an eight-game slate so the only chance the Big East has to get even is to win the final four matchups. I think St. John’s easily keeps that dream alive against the Cornhuskers on Thursday night.
St. John’s (-9.5) over Nebraska in Gavitt Tipoff Games
Experience matters in college basketball, especially early in the season. Because there is so much roster turnover — to a greater degree now with the transfer portal changing the landscape — teams that have returning players fare much better in the early going.
Not only does Nebraska have almost an entirely new roster, half of its coaching staff is new as well. Two of last year’s assistant coaches are no longer with the program and have been replaced.
As far as the roster, Nebraska lost its top three scorers from last season. Their leading returning scorer — CJ Wilcher — came off the bench last season to average just over eight points per game.
They added three starters from the transfer portal: Sam Griesel (NDSU), Emmanuel Bandoumel (SMU) and Juwan Gary (Alabama). Another, Blaise Keta, comes from JUCO. That means they have an entirely new starting five from last season.
Senior Derrick Walker, expected to be a team leader as the only returning starter, is currently out with a medical issue. He has not played this season and is not expected to compete in this contest.
Red Storm has clear edge in experience
Meanwhile, St. John’s returns All-Big East guard Posh Alexander, fellow guard Montez Mathis and big man Joel Soriano. Alexander was named Big East Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in 2020-21, just third player to win both awards in the same season (Allen Iverson, Patrick Ewing).
Additionally, their added players have fit right in. David Jones, a junior forward who transferred from DePaul, leads the team in scoring at 18.7 points/game. Andre Curbelo, a former Illini, is averaging 9.7 points and six assists in his first three games with the Storm. Curbelo missed a large portion of last season with a concussion, but as a freshman nearly recorded a triple-double against the Huskers going for 10 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists.
St. John’s strength is Nebraska’s weakness
The Red Storm can flat-out SHOOT THE ROCK and that is bad news for the Cornhuskers. St. John’s is averaging a ridiculous 55% from the field, 41% from 3-point range and 79% from the line.
Nebraska, which has two wins over very inferior competition at home — Maine (79-66) and Omaha (75-61) — has still allowed 37% from three-point range and 44% shooting overall. They’ve also benefitted from opponents shooting just 50% from the free-throw line, which St. John’s should easily best and earn them some easy points.
Neither of these teams has been good against the spread this season, but at least St. John’s has one cover (1-2 ATS) — Nebraska is 0-2 ATS. St. John’s also has the benefit of having played on Tuesday and they get this game at home. OutKick’s Geoff Clark discussed the importance of home court in college basketball when he gave out Texas as a winner against Gonzaga on Wednesday — which was an easy cash.
Nebraska hasn’t played since Thursday and they have a nearly brand new team with a nearly brand new coaching staff going on the road to face a much more talented and experienced squad in St. John’s. You have to lay 9.5 but St. John’s should easily win this game by double digits and keep the Big East alive in the Gavitt Tipoff Games.
Back ST. JOHN’S (-9.5) OVER NEBRASKA at DraftKings Sportsbook.
Follow Dan Zaksheske on Twitter: @OutkickDanZ