Ambiance: Radiohead, Just (video link, pops up in a new window)
“Can’t get the stink off/ it’s been hangin’ ’round for days.”
On Thursday evening, St. John’s will honor the 25th anniversary of the 1985 Final Four team at halftime of the Louisville game. It will be another stark contrast of the heights the program once reached to the struggles the program has experienced through much of the last 18 years, and to the struggles of the current Red Storm squad. Can St. John’s take a little inspiration and knock off the Louisville Cardinals at home?
Last Saturday, the Red Storm had a nice thing going, leading by double-digits over West Virginia in the Garden. The Mountaineers were sleepwalking, taking poor shots… and then they remembered to play basketball. Da’ Sean Butler got loose. And West Virginia scored 3 points less in a half than St. John’s scored in the whole game. While some will complain about the offensive issues, the truth is that St. John’s wasn’t much worse on offense in the second half than the first. But they were far, far worse on defense, especially against Butler, who went 7 for 7 from beyond the arc, powering the Mountaineer offense.
These are low-confidence days for the Red Storm. But at this point, what is there to lose (well, besides more games)? The team is probably out of any sort of NCAA Tournament picture, but they still have a winning record overall; some confident play can defeat their next set of unranked opponents. The team has to believe… and make shots.
The Cardinals are the first of three opponents St. John’s will face twice this season. Since the last contest (you can read the Johnny Jungle breakdown of the earlier game as well), St. John’s has returned Anthony Mason Jr. to full game action, has won 2 but lost 5 games, has heard “Fire Roberts” chants during games, and has struggled to maintain leads (but at least they are getting leads). Meanwhile, Louisville has gone 3-4, with 3 road losses. They have been allowing a large number of free throw attempts, high 3-point shooting efficiency, and a fair amount of second chances for opponents.
Unlike in some of the recent games, St. John’s has a chance in this one. But can they take advantage? There are players who are playing well (see the player notes below), and hopefully, they will see some more time this evening. The rotation as it is hasn’t been winning, perhaps it’s time to play some guys a little more and see what they can do.
Tip Off: 7:00 PM, Thursday, February 10
Location: Madison Square Garden
Radio: Bloomberg 1130/ WSJU
Louisville (15-8, 6-4)
34 G Jerry Smith SR 6’2 190: 23.6 mpg* 9.2ppg* 3.6 rpg* 2.1 apg* 1.4 spg
12 G Reginald Delk SR 6’5 200: 21.5 mpg* 6.8 ppg* 43.5 %3PT* 3.5 rpg
21 F Jared Swopshire SO 6’8 220: 25.1 mpg* 8.1 ppg* 6 rpg* 84.3%FT
15 F Samardo Samuels SO 6’9 260: 28.2 mpg* 15.7 ppg* 53 %FG* 7.5 rpg* 1.2 bpg
2 G Preston Knowles JR 6’1 190: 20 mpg* 8.2 ppg* 3.3 rpg* 2.8 apg* 1.1 spg
23 F Terrence Jennings SO 6’10 240: 13.3 mpg* 5.5 ppg* 64.9 %FG* 3.5 rpg* 1.2 bpg
14 G Kyle Kuric SO 6’4 190: 13.6 mpg* 3.3 ppg* 3.2 rpg
3 PG Peyton Siva FR 6’1 175: 11.5 mpg* 4.6 ppg* 46.2 %FG * 39.4% 3PT* 1.6 apg
Terrence Jennings and Jared Swopshire have been splitting time at the starting position at forward with mainstay Samardo Samuels; Pitino’s system means that both see a lot of court time. Both rebound very well, but the slim Swopshire has an outside game to complement his inside game (and he has gone 33-37 from the free throw line in conference). Jennings has a lot more strength and bulk, and is an adept shot blocker. Samardo has been effective on the offensive glass, but still could be better on the defensive boards. He’s a force inside and could have had his way with St. John’s last time.
On the wings, Reginald Delk is a steady shooting hand who almost never gets to the free throw line, taking most of his shots as jumpers (the majority from beyond the 3-point arc). Preston Knowles is also unfamiliar with the free throw line, and his shooting has been sub-par; but his defense and basketball IQ are worth his court time. In the earlier game, he made strong defensive plays in the second half to increase the lead. Kyle Kuric and Mike Marra profile similarly to Knowles; Kuric has been physical at times and will get at some rebounds.
In his final game at home in the Garden, Edgar Sosa could be calm and patient… or show once more that he has a head filled with knuckles and ego. He has been very good on the floor, taking half his shots from beyond the arc and hitting 41% of them in conference. Sosa even passes a good amount. Senior Jerry Smith is as solid as always, playing smart defense and hitting some shots from outside. The last game saw him taking a number of foul shots as St. John’s was trying to extend the game; he made most of them. Peyton Siva, the freshman point guard, plays about 10 minutes per game. While he shoots well, his ability to run the team still needs development.
St. John’s (12-10, 2-8)
3 PG Malik Boothe JR 5’9 188: 3.9 ppg* 2.0 apg
23 G Paris Horne JR 6’3 191: 8.4 ppg* 3.0 rpg* 39% 3PT
1 G-F DJ Kennedy JR 6’5 215: 15.0 ppg* 6.6 rpg* 3.2 apg* 35% 3PT* 1.2 spg
2 G-F Anthony Mason Jr. SR 6’7 210: 5.9 ppg* 4.4 rpg
5 F Sean Evans JR 6’8 255: 7.0 ppg* 6.3 rpg
12 G Dwight Hardy JR 6′2 187: 23.1 mpg* 11.0 ppg* 39% 3PT
32 F Justin Brownlee JR 6′7 232: 20.5 mpg* 7.4 ppg* 5.5 rpg
15 F-C Dele Coker JR 6’10 252: 10.0 mpg* 2.3 ppg* 1.9 rpg* 1.2 bpg* 68% FG
24 F Justin Burrell JR 6’8 235: 18.2 mpg* 6.2 ppg* 3.3 rpg* 51% FG
31 PG Malik Stith FR 5’11 185: 12.8 mpg* 2.0 ppg* 1.5 apg
11 G Omari Lawrence FR 6’4 215: 10.2 mpg* 2.7 ppg* 1.7 rpg
If you haven’t yet looked at the stats from St. John’s conference play so far, you should.
St. John’s has been poor on offense, and a good part of it is a slump by the offensive stars, DJ Kennedy and Dwight Hardy in conference play. Both are shooting under 40% from the field (Kennedy: 39.8%; Hardy 35.4%) and under 40% from beyond the arc (33% for Kennedy, 35% for Hardy). Meanwhile, Paris Horne has shot 40% from beyond the arc. Kennedy has also been less effective at getting to the line; if the team can free him up for some good drives, he can make more of an impact.
Up front, Justin Burrell has come alive with three double-figure scoring efforts in a row, powered mostly by a hot jump shot. He’s played 22 minutes (14 pts), 18 minutes (10 points), and 21 minutes (12 points); the team might just want to let him loose for 30+ and see what he can do. His rebounding has been better, though he had a goose egg against Rutgers sandwiched between a 7 board effort and an 8 rebound effort. Again: Justin’s been the hot hand, and can expect to see defenses looking out for him. Evans has been solid rebounding (especially offensively) and scoring, but still struggles with tall shot blockers. Anthony Mason Jr. has transformed himself into a post player, which is good – his 3-point shot is still missing. Justin Brownlee’s offensive rebounding has been notable. Dele Coker has seen just under 8 minutes a game. It seems as if his shot blocking skills are still there, and he’s scoring without turning over the basketball. Perhaps he will see more time against the Cardinals.
In the Big East season (10 games), the point guards have combined to score 21 points. They have handed out 33 assists, which isn’t bad, and have committed 28 turnovers, which isn’t that good. Their defense has been decent, but the team needs more scoring impact from them.
Keys to the Game
Handle the Press. Louisville, as always, will come with presses and traps. The Red Storm have to handle the press. In the previous game at Louisville, the Red Storm did decently against the press except for some short spurts… which helped create the Cardinals’ runs. In a game with ebbs and flows, the team needs to ebb less, since they don’t have the firepower to come back from a debilitating 10-2 or similar Louisville run.
Aggressive Play Gets To the Line. The Cardinals have given up their share of fouls. And the Red Storm can drive to the hoop better than they have been, especially with the holes that are usually there in the press. If the team can get to the line more, they will have a better chance of winning.
Defend the Paint. Whether it’s on post-ups by Samuels or if it’s getting back on defense like a team that cares, St. John’s cannot make any 2-point shot easy. Make the Cardinals earn it with their jump shooting. Easier said than done, of course; beating post players to their preferred spots, taking good shots within the offense to prevent run-outs, and racing back on D are all necessary to keep the Cardinals from easy looks.
Body Up Samuels + Swopshire. Both are excellent rebounders, especially on the offensive side. St. John’s has to locate them and keep a body on them when the shots go up on either end.
Get The Weapons Going. Hardy and Kennedy struggled mightily against West Virginia. And Justin Burrell got 3 shots in the second half of that game. These three – and Paris Horne – are the offensive weapons. If the team has a chance to win at home, they have to get to scoring and scoring efficiently.
Prediction: I predict a relatively close loss, Louisville 74, St. John’s 69.
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.