Ambiance: The Jam, Start! (video link, pops up in a new window)
“All week we’ve been trying to figure out how we’ve been getting in these lulls in the second half. We just all figured that we’ve got to just fight through it. And I think we did a great job of that, sticking together. Everybody made contributions with whatever minutes they had tonight. I think it was a good win collectively.”
What in the hell was that? St. John’s came out tenacious and aggressive, and Louisville folded like a house of… ah… Cards. A nice win for the Johnnies, and nice momentum going into their road game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. At 3-8 in the conference, there is still room for a string of wins and the building of confidence. If St. John’s can play as they did against Louisville with consistency, they may find themselves knocking off a few teams that they were not expected to.
Meanwhile, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have taken the “D” out of their name. A team that was already mediocre on defense has become entirely indifferent, to the point where they won’t be able to win in the Big East. It’s not an issue of defensive weaknesses… it’s like they just don’t defend, not at a competitive level. The offense is excellent, and pulls out wins, but the team prefers to allow opponents to shoot, and won’t body up and commit fouls.
But the main offensive weapon – player of the year candidate Luke Harangody – is out with a bone bruise. What will the Irish look like? Can they defend their home court against the offensively challenged Red Storm? Can the Red Storm take advantage of a soft defense and get some shots to fall? Or will St. John’s recurring road woes and jump shooting inconsistency doom the team?
Tip Off: 7:30 PM, Sunday, February 14
Location: Joyce Center
Radio: Bloomberg 1130
Notre Dame (17-8, 6-6)
23 G Ben Hansbrough JR 6’3 206: 11.7 ppg* 4.9 apg* 3.7 rpg* 45.3% 3PT
20 G Jonathan Peoples SO 6’3 215: 19.8 mpg* 4.3 ppg* 2.1 rpg* 40.9% 3PT
12 F Tyrone Nash SR 6’8 232: 7.7 ppg* 5.4 rpg* 55.9% FG
21 F Tim Abromaitis JR 6’8 235: 16.6 ppg* 3.8 rpg* 48.3% 3PT
44 F Luke Harangody SR 6’9 260:
34 F Carleton Scott JR 6’7 217: 13.5 mpg* 3.1 ppg* 3.4 rpg
14 G Joey Brooks SO 6’5 215: 4.3 mpg* 2.3 ppg* 57.1% 3PT
We don’t know quite what we will see out of the Fighting Irish. They are obviously known for Luke Harangody, and rightfully so – he is the alpha and omega on offense, handles the bulk of the defensive rebounding chores. Expect a perimeter-oriented attack that will focus on Tim Abromaitis, one of the best 3-point shooters in the Big East conference. He is tall and has a nice, quick shot, and he is capable of putting up shot attempts – he’s been the second fiddle to Harangody.
The rest of the players, however, have played complementary roles. One of the others will have to step up; based on the number of shots they take in their minutes, there isn’t a clear-cut player who will be the second scorer. Tory Jackson will lead the team with decent ballhandling and will look for his shot more; Ben Hansbrough may be looked for more coming off of screens, where he is better than off the dribble (as far as I have seen this year). Jonathan Peoples has a decent 3-point shooting percentage but doesn’t bring much else to the table. Tyrone Nash is a junior who will be active on the offensive glass and can score inside, even if he shoots 55% on free throws. Carleton Scott will see some time as well. For more, let’s turn to Matt from the Black and Green Irish Report:
They play great offense but lack defensive focus. This has been a common complaint since Mike Brey set foot on campus but this is the most ridiculous disparity I’ve seen. I thought that replacing Kyle McAlarney with the more athletic Ben Hansbrough this season would fix some of the issues that plagued us a year ago. Instead, Irish defenders commonly get beaten off the ball, are slow to close out on shooters, and get pushed around a bit on the glass.
Coach Brey doesn’t like to play guys he doesn’t trust. For whatever reason, that circle of trust has been especially small this season. Tory Jackson and Hansbrough will most likely play all 40 minutes in the backcourt. Brooks could get 6-8 minutes at shooting guard or small forward. Nash will get the fewest minutes of the starters, but most likely even he will earn 30-35. Expect a seven-man rotation.
None of the younger guys have gotten enough playing time to really display a lot of talent. Brooks might be the best defender on the team, but he won’t see any minutes until he convinces the coaching staff that he can score. Jack Cooley (6’9″, 244, 1.5 minutes/ game) has the most potential of our three freshman forwards, but [Mike] Broghammer (6’9, 243, 5.3 minutes/ game) is the most game-ready so far. Unfortunately, he has been hurt lately.
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.
That was a great performance by the Red Storm in front of the 1985 team – or the members of the team who stayed to watch the game. It was a small crowd, a little over 5,000, which had to be disturbing for the school, since they are renting out the Garden for the game. Nonetheless, the team scored 74 points on 55 shots, a level of scoring efficiency they have only touched against Long Island University and Bryant University.
This may not happen again; but as said earlier in this preview, Notre Dame is defensively indifferent. That said, they allow a lot of their scoring from beyond the 3-point arc, trying to keep players closer to the basket. St. John’s lack of shooting could do them in, but the inexperience of whoever is playing defense in the post could work to St. John’s advantage, if they use moments when the perimeter defenders are out of position to drive to the basket. But the team has to nail the open looks.
Keys to the Game
Score. The Irish’s huge weakness, unfortunately, coincides with the Red Storm’s flaw – scoring the basketball, especially off the jump shot. It’s a matchup of the movable force (ND’s “defense”) vs. the stoppable object (St. John’s “offense”). The Red Storm have to find a way to score in the post. Burrell’s diversified game will be needed, as will DJ Kennedy’s creativity.
Guard the Perimeter. The Irish will score a little inside, but the most dangerous player is Abromaitis, who can shoot the lights out from distance. He and Hansbrough will likely be counter on to make up for Harangody’s absence; so St. John’s has to be vigilant on the perimeter. Mike Brey’s teams know how to get their points.
Get Back/ In Position On D. The desperate Fighting Irish will be looking to exploit all mismatches quickly, and they should be effective at doing so. The key is to get out of position less, to make fewer mistakes, to get to the defensive rebounds, and to not allow easy shots by the Notre Dame players. In a related note, St. John’s has to defend with their feet, not their hands; the Irish can also shoot well from the free throw line.
Don’t Underestimate. Though without their leader, the Fighting Irish have some experience fighting to score more than the other squad. They will come out motivated, trying to keep their record within striking distance of a winning conference record and possible NCAA Tournament play. They will be motivated; and St. John’s has to be motivated to find ways of scoring, and holding the Irish below their usual offensive efficiency.
Maintain Control/ Concentration. Though the Irish do not force many turnovers (they are one of the worst teams at forcing turnovers), they might come out with a defensive mindset. Or simply take advantage of sloppy Red Storm play, which does happen from time to time. St. John’s has to maintain their solid ballhandling and give themselves chances to score almost every time down. And even on the road, the Red Storm have to remember that they can win if they keep their confidence up, and their concentration high.
Prediction: A nail-biter, where the team is done in by the free throw shooting, Notre Dame 74, St. John’s 72. Then again, this is a tough game to predict.
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.