Coach Norm Roberts:
We've done a better job of playing on the road this year in tough environments. The last few years we've been getting beat by 15 or 18 points. Now the games are much closer and we are closer to getting a victory. We just have to get over the hump. That means making big plays in the gut of the game.
Or... shooting much, much better. Coach Norm Roberts rightfully points out in his pregame quotes (one of which is above) that the team was 15+ points behind much of the opposition. But with the same players, I think it will be hard to get over the hump; it's hard to improve by 15 points in a year. Improvement is expected, but that would be a hell of a jump - more on that later this week.
But the second half of the Big East season is almost upon the St. John's squad, and it cannot come fast enough. So many frustrating losses, so little consistency... the team is struggling to find its way. Close losses don't placate the fans or the players; moral victories were acceptable half a decade ago. The Red Storm has to find a way to score enough to win against the decent teams (or play incredible defense) to start getting some wins and rise from the lower depths of the conference. But there's nothing to indicate that they can right this ship - everyone's back, and some players' games have simply regressed.
Fortunately, there are two reasons to hold out some hope. First, the remaining schedule can be seen as more forgiving. Highly ranked West Virginia and Syracuse are the toughest upcoming teams that the Red Storm will face. The rest of the contests will feature squads from the middle of the standings, with 5 of those games at home. The second is a Rutgers squad that can charitably be described as weak, even if they exploited Notre Dame's extreme aversion to defense and physical contact for a win. The 1-8 Scarlet Knights have trouble scoring and holding on to the ball, have a coach who everyone figures will be fired at the end of the season, and have struggled to stay near opponents on the scoreboard more than St. John's has.
Can St. John's reverse their recent low-scoring losing ways and pull out a win in Piscataway? I think so; but they will have to believe it themselves.
(stats taken from Statsheet)
- Star System: Mike Rosario can get his shot off. A lot.
- Shot Blocking: Hamady N'Diaye and to a lesser extent Dane Miller are blocking shots like Mutumbo. N'Diaye, in particular, will get himself at least an invite to an NBA camp based solely on his ability to delete shot attempts.
- Impact Newcomers: Dane Miller is creeping into all-freshman Big East territory. James Beatty is a far better ball handler and ball distributor than Rutgers has seen in many years.
- Errant Star System: Mike Rosario takes a lot of shots, but he misses a lot of shots. he looks at times to be playing simply to pad his points-per-game scoring.
- Low-Impact Post Play: They simply do not rebound well on a regular basis; teams shoot decently in the paint on them despite N'Diaye's best efforts; and the team has little depth in the paint. Yes, that's three things, but there's a lot wrong with the Scarlet Knights.
- Turnover Generator: The Scarlet Knights cannot handle the ball under pressure. Or when passing. I think they couldn't sleep with a basketball and not turn it over.
St. John's Pluses
- A Justin Burrell Moment: Justin Burrell played solidly against Pittsburgh, going for rebounds and taking jumpers with his feet set. This gives hope for an actual post game in the final 10 games.
- Perimeter Defense: The team is allowing 28.8% shooting from beyond the arc in conference play.
- Dwight Hardy: The team's most efficient and consistent threat is Dwight Hardy, one of two double-figure scorers for St. John's.
St. John's Minuses
- The Curious Case of David J. Kennedy: The team's most steady player in the out of conference portion of the schedule is struggling, shooting 30.8% from the 3-point line, 40% overall, 63.9% from the free throw line.
- Offensive Flow: The team is 15th in the league in points per possession (.92/possession) in conference. 9th in assist percentage (53.6%). 16th in Effective Field Goal percentage (43.4%) (along with 14th in Free Throw Rate at 28.7% and let's not talk about the actual free throw shooting). 10th in Offensive Rebound Percentage (34.4%). Clearly, the team has no ability to score in conference play so far.
- Post Problems: Along with barely looking in the post for offense, St. John's also gets a LOT of shots blocked (9.4% of attempts, 15th in the league).
More pregame information at Johnny Jungle's Calm Before the Storm.
For more on the Scarlet Knights from Rutgers bloggers:
Keys to the Game
Garden State Stealing. It's impressive how a roster of players can all conspire to give the ball away. One can feel the unison in the Scarlet Knights; only Jonathan Mitchell and Mike Rosario take shots and turn the ball over less than 20% of the time (Hamady N'Diaye is not as active in the offensive sets). In Rosario's case, it's because when he touches the ball, he feels the need to take a shot. The Knights should be bumped, trapped, and harassed into giving up the ball, their lunch money, and anything else they've got.
The Garbagemen. Rutgers isn't great on the defensive glass. St. John's has to send the forwards in to clean up offensive misses and make second shots. And with a shotblocker like N'Diaye around, there will be loose balls for the taking.
Hands Up! Defend the Rutgers' jump shooters. Simply playing to defensive principles should keep the Scarlet Knights inaccurate and shooting the ball after a quick and ineffective one-on-one move.
Offensive Execution. St. John's will probably need a couple of solid performances from Dwight Hardy and DJ Kennedy (or Sean Evans/ Justin Burrell). But decent performances all around will also put this game away.
Keep Cool. The Red Storm has to make sure to defend without fouling, and to not turn the ball over. Rutgers may come out on fire, feeling it from the win over Notre Dame; but St. John's has to weather their valiant attack and take a road win. Dane Miller and Mike Rosario will have nice stretches, but St. John's has to run their sets, take smart shots, and not underestimate their opponent.