The Holiday Festival (which should be called the St. John's Invitational), aka the Aeropostale Holiday Festival, is back. And the squad finally gets some time in the Garden.
The first match-up of the Festival is against the Red Foxes of Marist College, that fine institution on the banks of the Hudson... in Poughkeepsie, that not-so-fine "Queen City of the Hudson", where the snow comes down heavier than it does downstate.
The second match up will be against the winner of the Columbia/ Virginia Tech game on Sunday, and it's a reasonable expectation that the Hokies will beat on the 3-5 Columbia Lions.
Unfortunately, the games also come on the heels of the news that forward Justin Burrell is definitely out for the weekend, and perhaps longer. This is the kind of blow a young, thin team does not need; Justin was playing fairly well in limited time (and many would say, with limited touches). Preview, below.
This observer was hoping to see what St. John's would do when they needed to use Burrell more. But that is not to be. Instead, we will have a chance to see how Coker has developed as he plays taller opponents, and how the squad will defend against size.
The Red Foxes are a regular opponent recently, losing to St. John’s 62-59 last year, a game where Tomas Jasiulionis hit a career high of 12 points while Geno Lawrence and DJ Kennedy struggled. David Devezin and Ryan Schneider played in that game; St. John’s offensive rebounding and free throw shooting (10 attempts from Geno) saved the day.
As a whole, the Red Storm has admirably cut down on the turnovers, has played with decent offensive flow, and gets after it rebounding hard at both ends. The players get to the free throw line with a notable exception in Paris Horne, who only has 11 attempts. He's the only active player with more than 10 attempts who hits over 70% from the charity stripe at 82%... everyone else is under 70%.
Against some very weak competition, the players have really shined with Boothe as the facilitator and Kennedy and Horne as the shooting options. Evans has taken a breakneck speed, dirty-work style and found some offense, even if he only hits half of his free throws; Sean has been tremendous on the offensive glass as well. No back up point guard has emerged, and the centers have not played many minutes.
The game against Marist should still be very winnable. They have struggled while integrating a new coach (former St. John's assistant Chuckie Martin), a new style (Memphis' Dribble Drive Motion) and many new players. The returnees Ryan Schneider, David Devezin, and DeJuan Goodwin are playing well in the new style. Still, Marist has lost 6 games – though to decent-to-good competition (Delaware, Rutgers, St. Bonaventure, Siena, Cleveland State, and Memphis). They’ve beaten Iona, New Hampshire, and Robert Morris.
The problem for the Red Foxes has been a boatload of turnovers in each game; their turnover percentage ranks in the bottom 10 in the nation, and they are not getting offensive rebounds, going to the free throw line, or shooting well enough to compensate. They also get their shots blocked more (by percentage) than anyone in the country. On defense, they do make the games tough, rebounding and defending decently.
St. John's played much of the end of the Bethune-Cookman game with 4 guards and Sean Evans, so perhaps that was practice for life without Justin. So though he probably won't start, freshman Smooth Quincy Roberts (4.7 ppg, 2.2 rpg) will get a good chunk of time. Dele Coker would be the candidate to be on court at tip off; if he can stay on the court, his rebounding and shot blocking would be a welcome sight. Rob Thomas (4.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 54%FG) will have to shake off the rust and make plays, which he does on the offensive glass. TyShwan Edmondson, Tomas Jasiulionis, and Phil Wait will likely see some time - all hands on deck with the Red Storm's two focal points (Mason and Burrell) both out.
Expect to see St. John’s try to apply pressure on the ball and goad driving guards into bad drives. The Red Storm will want to get out and run on the Foxes and draw some fouls; they do not want to play in the half court for a whole game. When in the half court, the team must work the ball around and get a good shot going to the basket. They will also need to make the Marist shooters work for outside shots; there are some solid outside shooters on the Marist team.
PG 3 Malik Boothe SO 9.3 ppg/ 5.2 apg/ 3.9 rpg/ 1.2 spg
G/F 1 DJ Kennedy SO 14.3 ppg/ 6.9 rpg/ 1.2 spg/ 37% 3pt
G 23 Paris Horne SO 12.5 ppg/ 3.9 rpg/ 2.5 apg/ 37% 3pt
PF 5 Sean Evans SO 9.4 ppg/ 5.4 rpg/ 1 spg/ 54% fg/ 50% FT
C 15 Dele Coker SO 4.4 ppg/ 2.9 rpg/ 1.1 bpg/ 51% fg
I could make a lame crack about Parris on Paris action, but I'll leave your minds to fill that one in. Seriously, Javon Parris might be singlehandledly be killing this team's chances to win. Against Cleveland State he was the ultimate in bricklayer, going 1-10 from the field and 0-5 from beyond the arc; his shooting percentages are simply terrible, though he is going to the free throw line a fair amount.
Dejuan Goodwin is their most efficient threat; Ryan Schneider is the player who will be on the court the most. Point guard David Devezin sat out the last game against Cleveland State, and may be a game-time decision. If he can’t go, freshman RJ Hall will log some time. Greek freshman Alex Vouyoukas started the Cleveland State game; Lawrence Williams (8.6 ppg, 6 rpg) started the previous 8 contests and will see some time if he does not start.
Marist will look to take outside shots, and will try to make St. John’s shoot from the outside as well. The Red Storm has been able to win despite their terrible outside shooting; Marist may pack in their defense and/ or play some zone; if they choose to run their usual pressing style, St. John’s will get the ball to the rim and run the Red Foxes out of the gym.
44 F Ryan Schneider SR 6'7" 200lbs 13 ppg/ 8.6 rpg/ 1.1 bpg / 37%FG, 37% 3PT
33 G Javon Parris JR 6’4" 180lbs 6.2 ppg/ 4 rpg/ 1.2 spg/ 27.9% FG/ 59.1%FT
11 G DeJuan Goodwin SO 6’2" 171lbs 7.3 ppg/ 3.9 rpg/ 58.3% 3PT/ 46.9% FG/ 54.5% FT
24 PG David Devezin JR 5’10" 180lbs 12.3 ppg/ 3.8 apg/ 1.9 rpg/ 50%3PT
14 F Alex Vouyoukas FR 6’9" 225lbs 2.1ppg/ 56%FG
Five Points, or, Keys to the Game
Turn of the Season. St. John's is facing a team that commonly turns the ball over. The guards have to keep their hands and feet active to get the Foxes into spots on the floor they can't be effective in, and snatch the ball away on drives. Breaking their rhythm will cause a poor offensive team to try an score one-on-one; I like the Red Storm's chances in that kind of game.
You're Big Enough. Especially against a slightly smaller team in Marist, St. John's has to remember not to overcompensate. Don't try to put them away with a barrage of jump shots. Don't be too eager to block a shot (that means Dele). It's a fine line between aggressiveness and being too eager to make a play. Let the offense flow, pass the ball, look for the open man, play the game. And keep the hands up - there will be shots blocked in this game.
Crash Those Boards. So far, Marist has done a bad job of keeping teams off the offensive glass. Sean Evans' activity and Dele Coker's sheer size should get them second shot opportunities.
Energy. Keep that energy up! The best thing about this year's squad is the energy they bring to the game. And it needs to be there every time out. No looking ahead to Virginia Tech. No lackluster periods. Intensity. Concentrate on the opponent at hand.
Defend Them at the Arc. The way Marist can win this game is with hot three point shooting. St. Johns' guards have to keep track of their men and keep them from getting a clean catch and a clean look from beyond the arc. Bump, jostle, anticipate - play tough defense and skin these Foxes.