For the past two years, the St. John's Red Storm and the Long Island University Blackbirds have met in matches that were more closely contested than they should be.
The Blackbirds have given the Red Storm fits in the past two meetings. In particular, their all-conference star Jaytornah Wisseh has been able to put up shots against the Red Storm defense and get to the free throw line, though last year’s season opener featured his backcourt mate Kyle Johnson bombing on the Storm.
The Blackbirds play an effective enough zone that they don’t find themselves being run off the court at Carnesecca by more-athletic Johnnies. Instead, they make the Red Storm confront their perimeter-shooting demons, and some players’ inability (I'm looking at the forwards here) to defend quick guards without fouling.
This year’s contest should be easier. The Blackbirds are scrappy; but their talent and experience level has taken a hit, with a heart condition removing forward Julian Boyd for the year, a sick mother removing guard Lucas Faggiano, and the lure of home and professional money bringing Aurimas Adomaitis back to Lithuania.
Keys to the Game:
Stop Wisseh. Jaytornah Wisseh is the focal point of the team. The past two games against LIU have featured him and Kyle Johnson imposing their will to make the game closer than it should be. The defense has to focus on taking Wisseh out of the game, preferably with one guy and occasional traps for turnovers; neutralizing his ability to drive and pass will be key to a big victory.
Zone Buster. I would expect the Blackbirds to play some zone, since it’s been effective in the past against the Red Storm. This is a longstanding problem. Norm Roberts’ teams have been inconsistent at best in attacking the zone with player movement, quick passing, and mid-range shooting. If the athletes can get to the rim against LIU – or if the forwards can consistently hit some mid-range shots – the game will be over pretty quickly.
Establish Speed. The point guards have to set the tone, harassing LIU into shots they don’t want to take. The wings have to make life difficult on the interior. And the forwards have to clean the glass and whip the ball forward for the outlet. The Storm have to watch for sloppiness; last year’s game was fast-paced, but the guards weren’t effective in stopping the LIU attack. The Johnnies poured salt on the wound by taking perimeter shots that missed, playing into the Blackbirds’ hands.
Defend Without Fouling. The coaching staff often has forwards come out to the perimeter to confuse and hopefully trap opposing guards. Some defenders are better than others at getting back into the paint; and St. John’s interior defense suffered for it. A good defense’s objective is to first and foremost make the other team miss; and while doing that, keep the other team from piling up free throw attempts. Last year’s team didn’t make opponents miss and also could have been better in not putting the other team on the line. It is imperative that the fouls 30 feet from the basket are reduced to a minimum. The defenders need to be in good defensive positions with respect to their man and the ball.
Be Efficient. With an experienced squad, a backup point guard, healthy players, and a pair of dynamic junior college players, it’s about time the Red Storm win some games efficiently. Fans have been patient. But they deserve to see some pretty basketball - an offense that flows, takes high-percentage shots, and plays intelligent basketball. It’s been hard-nosed basketball in the past 5 years, and certainly not pretty. Put some lipstick on it, Johnnies!
"Finishing plays, holding down turnovers and scoring the basketball all suffered because guys had to play more than they should," Norm Roberts said. "People can be fresh now without a substitution reducing talent on the floor."
....the case this year is that if Roberts doesn't produce more wins, his job will be in serious jeopardy. Everyone on the team understands how tough the Big East can be, but the Red Storm can't focus on anyone but itself.
"The atmosphere of this season has more hype because everyone is expecting us to be better than we were last year," Horne said. "I think we're going to do pretty good in the conference."
RedStormSports.com: St. John's Hardy Excited To Be Home Again
"Now that I'm at the big stage finally I'm anxious to see what I'm going to do," said Hardy, prior to his first Division I game against LIU on Friday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. "Coming here I didn't think my role would be to score as much, but coach really wants me to be aggressive, and I prefer that role."
NBC New York: Perfect Storm for the Red Storm
Tonight at 7 pm... the season starts.
Extended version of this preview on Johnny Jungle's Calm Before the Storm.