Game #33: Big East Tournament round 2, Marquette vs St. John's

Box score from Georgetown game, a 64-59 win over the Hoyas

You're going to either define your moment or let the moment define you.

- Norm Roberts after Georgetown win.

Making it to the second day of the Big East Tournament for this St. John's Red Storm team, beaten like a rug by 10 or more points in all 16 of their losses, is a solid achievement. The Georgetown Hoyas seemed lackluster and confused, but still... solid achievement.

I'm not going to go so far as to say the "storm has passed" as some have, but it's an achievement. And unlike yesterday morning, I've got a little excitement for the game.

Making it to the second day means facing (mostly - Providence needs a couple of wins) bonafide NCAA tournament teams filled with experience and skill. These are the kids who have been taking St. John's lunch money this year. And today, the game is against the Marquette Golden Eagles, an upperclassman-laden bunch with some of the more fearsome perimeter talents in the league, Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal, who should have been defensive player of the year.

The first meeting, at Marquette, was a Valentine's Night tail-whooping. It was less hearts and flowers and more like a Donkey Punch (movie trailer, SAFE for work). St. John's turned the ball over 24 times, were evenly matched on the offensive glass where they needed to win, shot slightly less well (thanks to some hot outside shooting from Paris Horne), sent Marquette to the free throw line more, and were gassed by the game's pace by the middle of the second half. The Johnnies come in to this game, though, with some confidence, and hopefully a desire to make up for past wrongs.

The Marquette game wasn't a good performance; and notably, with Justin Burrell coming off the bench (but getting the most minutes), the forwards laid a collective dud, scoring 6 points (Rob Thomas), 4 points (Burrell), and 3 points (Sean Evans). The best big that night was Dele Coker, who scored 8 on some surprisingly deep 2-point jump shot attempts. Coker may be back on the bench today.

The guards have been playing iron man minutes, and fatigue will be an issue; unfortunately, Malik Boothe doesn't really have a backup. The good performances from the Marquette game - the 6-19 from beyond the arc by Horne and Coker's scoring - will need to be replaced by a team effort on jump shots and inside play.

The Johnnies play a fresh and rested Marquette team, but a Golden Eagles squad missing their point guard Dominic James. The Eagles have lost 4 straight - but to the top teams in the league. James was their steady leader, and Maurice Acker... well, we don't know yet. He's not terrible - and he is a guard Malik Boothe can look in the eye - but he won't shoot the ball, and isn't accurate when he does. Surprisingly, 32 of his 34 shot attempts have been from the 3-point line. He had 7 assists in the loss to Syracuse and can steal the ball.

The rest of the team remains the same - Jerel McNeal is awesome but maybe should take fewer three-point attempts (he's taken 10, 12, and 14 in the last three losses, and hasn't hit more than 33% in those games); Wesley Matthews is very good, but has struggled in the losses; and Lazar Hayward rebounds much better than his size. Perhaps Dominic James' quickness, passing, and skill really made this team work; without him, Jerel McNeal and Wes Matthews have struggled.

This is a window of opportunity.

5 Points, or, Keys to the Game

 

cross-posted on Calm Before the Storm

Forward Effort: This team is nothing without effort and hustle from its forwards; Thomas, Burrell, and Evans have to bring down rebounds and ugly up the game. A little jump shooting to loosen up the Marquette defense would be nice as well; but though the defenders are smaller, they anticipate well. To recap, open jumpers are nice; foul-drawing inside play is much nicer. And the forwards have to do their part and not turn over the ball (as Evans did 5 times in the Valentine's Day game).

This is the area where St. John's may have a slight advantage, and they have to milk it for all it's worth. Burrell is playing more energetically with his mask off, and that is a good sign

Young Legs: Have that good breakfast. Get that adrenaline pumping. Come out strong, smart, and defend intelligently. The effort by the whole team has to be there; the hustle, forcing turnovers and deflections, dribbling quickly and decisively into the frontcourt against the Marquette presses and traps.

And on defense, make them take frustration shots, three-pointers, shots out of the flow of their offense.

Defense and Pace: St. John's played a game a little too hectic for the talent and for their liking last time out, with Boothe alone committing 8 turnovers. They have to find a way to manage the pace - fewer runouts by the fast-breaking Golden Eagles, better defense off of their defensive rebounds, and disruption by the perimeter players. They have to make it a frustrating, slower-paced game; make Marquette score in the half court.

Repeat Performances: Horne and Kennedy need to bring some scoring. Preferably going to the basket vs perimeter jump shots. I'd like to say Paris can repeat that, but that is not a reasonable game plan. Even if the jumper is falling for Horne, he needs to get to the line, work his defender to exhaustion, and make plays all over the court. And Evans needs to bring down rebounds and play manic defense like he did yesterday afternoon. They need to be destroyed on the boards.

The Basics - Make Shots: You don't win if you don't make shots. St. John's has to work their offense and come out a little more efficient than they have been. Cut crisply. Screen well. Keep the footwork correct. Be aggressive. And when running in transition, remember to give your running mates some space so you can collectively make a play.

The Golden Eagles open as 7-point favorites.

 

Check out the preview from Cracked Sidewalks.

Interesting comment from Burrell in the Newsday, who tends to speak his mind a bit:

"Honestly, [a couple months ago], I think we would've folded," said Burrell, who had seven points. "Maybe not folded, but we would've made some mistakes, taken some quick shots. We've learned because we've done it so many times before, rushed shots and everything."

What the Marquette Golden Eagles are watching out for:

Williams said Horne and Kennedy both ran the floor well in transition, an area that has given the Golden Eagles fits since Dominic James was lost for the season with a broken foot. The Red Storm also uses plenty of ball screens to try to free those two up, so defending those adequately will be vital as well.

"Within what they're doing offensively, it's just ball screen after ball screen after ball screen, so you've got to make your decisions on your coverage with those two guys in relation to who's setting those screens," said Williams, who noted that St. John's set 88 ball screens in its game with MU last month.

"That's where they've had success, and that's where they had success today."

"I think that they've been playing with great spirit, and they're really, really talented in regards to attacking the glass on both ends," Williams said. "It's not that they're big - they are big - it's how they attack the glass. And I think that's where they've created a lot of problems for teams.

"So they set ball screens, and primarily one of those perimeter guys is going to shoot it, and then those big guys are going to chase it. And they've done a really good job."

MU desperately needs to right the ship today. Not only are the Golden Eagles mired in their longest losing streak in more than five years, they're coming up short in games they've had chances to win despite being outmanned.

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