Ambiance: Ozzy Osbourne, Bark at the Moon (video link, pops up in a new window)
Justin Burrell (from the NY Daily News), after the Syracuse game:
“I understand why people say we haven’t improved,” junior forward Justin Burrell said. “I believe (we have) in my heart, but I guess the facts say (we’re) not.”
In an effort to avoid a .500 or below record – and to match last season’s Big East win total – the Red Storm need to win the regular season finale at Allstate Arena in lovely Chicago-Adjacent (also known as Rosemont), against the 1-15 DePaul Blue Demons. This matchup might be a dog – the 13th or 14th team in the league, depending on Rutgers’ result tonight, vs. the 16th. But this is a game that the Red Storm should win. Can they shake off the disappointment of the last two losses and get one more win on the road?
The Red Storm’s last outing was a pretty solid beating by the #1 team in the country by both major polls. But the Johnnies lost more than a game, they lost their second leading scorer, Dwight Hardy. Off the bench, Hardy provided decent scoring punch and the ability to pull the Red Storm out of offensive funks. Without the junior there to shoot the team back into the game, what will happen when they get down? Comments made after the Syracuse game showed a couple of players openly searching for answers, questioning themselves.
Meanwhile, DePaul has managed to make a number of games competitive by slowing the pace and playing better defense. They have managed to get leads on a number of teams at halftime, but get ground down by a lack of talent in the end. Part of the problem is giving up second shots in the games; the Blue Demons don’t have a lot of height, but they do try hard under interim coach Tracy Webster. The Red Storm played well in the first contest at Carnesecca Arena; here’s hoping they can do it again.
Tip Off: 8:30 PM, Friday, March 5
Location: Allstate Arena
Radio: Bloomberg 1130
11 PG Jeremiah Kelly SO 6’1 170: 5.3 ppg* 2.5 apg* 1.2 spg* 2.5 rpg
30 G Will Walker SR 6’0 190: 16.2 ppg* 2.6 apg* 1.5 spg
22 F Tony Freeland FR 6’6 216: 12.0 mpg* 3.4 ppg* 49% FG
1 G-F Mike Stovall JR 6’5 200: 6.6 ppg* 2.8 rpg* 1.1 spg
21 F-C Mac Koshwal JR 6’10 255: 16.2 ppg* 10.1 rpg* 54.2% FG* 58.2% FT
3 F Devin Hill SO 6’9 200: 18 mpg* 5.1 ppg* 2.9 rpg
0 G Michael Bizoukas JR 6’1 175: 20.3 mpg* 3.7 ppg* 2.2 rpg* 1 spg
30 C Krys Faber SO 6’11 260: 11.4 mpg* 2.4 ppg* 2.8 rpg
10 F Mario Stula JR 6’7 210: 11.6 mpg* 2.3 ppg* 34.3% 3PT
Under Tracy Webster, the Blue Demons try very hard to feed the post and Mac Koshwal. He is the only interior threat; Krys Faber is game but not very skilled, and Devin Hill tends to hang on the perimeter. Koshwal’s a little mechanical but can score; and his rebounding is excellent.
It is senior night for Will Walker, who has gamely played through some very lean years for the Blue Demons. He is the outside threat but hasn’t been able to really carry the team with the opposing defense keyed on him. But he will hit his three-pointers and play for much of the game.
I won’t front – I think some of the rest players on the roster (such as Stula) are simply not Big East players… or Division I players. They try very hard, but the squad lacks shot creators. There is a little athleticism on the team in newcomer wings Tony Freeland and Mike Stovall. Those two can attack the hoop hard. The point guards Jeremiah Kelly and Mike Bizoukas, share the ballhandling duties. Neither shoots much or gets to the line, but Kelly is a slightly peskier defender (though Bizoukas gives effort), and Mike Bizoukas gets to the hoop better. For more on the Blue Demons, let’s go to the Chicago Now blog, Chicago College Basketball:
C Krys Faber – A very raw sophomore there appears to be some potential here, but Faber commits too many fouls and doesn’t really do anything on offense. He’s a big body that’s willing to bang, but he’s not particularly effective at anything right now.
F Mac Koshwal – This is DePaul’s best player. He missed part of the season, but he’s been on a tear as of late. The 6′11″ front court player is a guy you have to account for. He uses a lot of possessions. He also rebounds very well.
F Mike Stovall – I personally think that Stovall is a shooting guard miscast as a small forward, but this is where the junior plays. He’s 6′5″ and shoots a lot. He’s not a particularly good shooter. He’s streaky. He carried DePaul to their victory over Marquette with hot shooting down the stretch.
G Michael Bizoukas – Bizoukas and Jeremiah Kelly split time at the lead guard position and neither is particularly effective. Bizoukas is a little bit better at getting to the basket. Kelly is a little bit better on the defensive end in terms of harassing ball handlers full-court.
G Will Walker – Friday will be Walker’s final home game in a DePaul uniform. He is the do everything guy for the Blue Demons. His numbers aren’t great this season because everyone knows he is shooting when he gets the basketball. Also, Walker plays a ton of minutes. He is 4th in the nation in percentage of minutes played.
Reserves: The DePaul bench is pretty thin. Devin Hill is a long forward that blocks shots, but like to hang out around the perimeter on offense. One of the point guards will come off the bench. Also, Tony Freeland is the team’s lone scholarship freshman. He commits a lot of fouls, but he has good energy off the bench.
For more on the Blue Demons (and their coaching search, check out the rest of his answers.
St. John’s (15-14, 5-12)
3 PG Malik Boothe JR 5’9 188: 4.6 ppg* 2.5 apg
23 G Paris Horne JR 6’3 191: 8.7 ppg* 2.9 rpg* 38% 3PT
1 G-F DJ Kennedy JR 6’5 215: 14.7 ppg* 6.1 rpg* 2.9 apg* 33.3% 3PT* 1.1 spg
G-F Anthony Mason Jr. SR 6’7 210: 6.4 ppg* 5.1 rpg* 1.8 apg
5 F Sean Evans JR 6’8 255: 6.5 ppg* 5.9 rpg
12 G Dwight Hardy JR 6′2 187: 22.9 mpg* 10.8 ppg* 38.6% 3PT
24 F Justin Burrell JR 6’8 235: 19.7 mpg* 6.8 ppg* 4.3 rpg* 48.0% FG
32 F Justin Brownlee JR 6′7 232: 18.5 mpg* 6.5 ppg* 4.7 rpg
31 PG Malik Stith FR 5’11 185: 11.6 mpg* 1.7 ppg* 1.3 apg
15 F-C Dele Coker JR 6’10 252: 8.8 mpg* 1.8 ppg* 1.7 rpg* .9 bpg* 64.7% FG
The Blue Demons play a small lineup, so I expect to see Sean Evans and Anthony Mason back in the lineup. But to counter Koshwal, Justin Burrell will get some minutes and have a chance to attack the Demons’ post play. The Red Storm will have to play solid defense to take the Blue Demons out of the game early; they may come out on fire on senior night against a team they have a fighter’s chance to beat.
Dwight Hardy will miss the Friday evening game in Chicago. This means that someone will have to take his minutes, either by committee or by playing more of reserve guard Omari Lawrence. Given the talent of the Blue Demons, one would like to see him play a little bit.
Keys to the Game
Take Them Seriously. The Blue Demons have played better than they did in the earlier game. St. John’s has better athletes and are more competitive; but they cannot come out in a lackadaisical manner as they did against some teams. Sloppy play, turnovers, and lack of effort will doom them even against this weak squad, or make the game much closer than it needs to be.
Defend. The Demons have two offensive threats – Mac Koshwal in the post and Will Walker on the perimeter. The other players are poor shooters, but can drive a little bit. St. John’s has to make sure to keep the point guards on the perimeter and out of the paint. And they have to make Koshwal (and the other forwards) a high volume, low effectiveness player by getting him out of position early.
Generate Easy Shots. The Red Storm need to run the court well and take the easy opportunities when they can. There will be chances to run, off of turnovers or rebounds. The team needs shots in transition, especially with Dwight Hardy out.
Win the Battle on the Glass. Second chance points can make even the most inconsistent offense look good. So St. John’s has to win the battles – scoring off of putbacks on offense and limiting the Blue Demons to one shot on defense.
Recapture the Magic. The excellent, confident play against Louisville and South Florida has to come back – not the middling and distracted play from the Providence and Seton Hall contests. Swagger, body language, and aggressiveness will help them win – getting to the free throw line, taking smart shots, and playing like a favored team.
Prediction: The game will be closer than it should be. 64-57, St. John’s.
Transplanted New Yorker and now Midwesterner Peter a/k/a Pico writes for the East Coast Bias and the Church of Bracketology and for Johnny Jungle, doing the Calm Before the Storm posts. Pico is also on Twitter, @ECoastBias.