Notes on Notre Dame
At 3-8 in the conference, there is still room for a string of wins and the building of confidence for the Red Storm. If St. John's can play as they did against Louisville with consistency, ridiculous offensive scoring percentages, and stifling defense, 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. They allow 1.13 points per possession in Big East play (incidentally, how much they score per possession as well in conference). The team doesn't try to defend at a competitive level. And their main offensive weapon, Luke Harangody (36% of the shots when on the floor, almost 90% of minutes) will be out with a bone bruise. Sounds like an easy winner...
But the offense is excellent, and pulls out wins. Tim Abromaitis is one of the best shooters in the country (hitting 45.9% in Big East play), and there are other shooters on the team. So even though they don't body up to defend, they can outscore teams; and St. John's has problems scoring, especially off of the jump shot (which a packed in zone will give the team all day).
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? This is a game where St. John's will be better served by running at every opportunity.
Notre Dame Pluses
Efficient Scoring. Everyone knows that Harangody is a great scorer on the college level. But the team around him is excellent as well; Abromaitis is taking 22% of the shots in Big East play and shooting an effective field goal percentage of 60.6%, or scoring 1.3 points per possession. Ben Hansbrough follows him with a 53.2% effective field goal percentage.
Sharing the Basketball. With a 1.87 assist-to-turnover percentage and assisting on 68.3% of their shots, Notre Dame leads the Big East.
Not Fouling on Defense. The Irish allow opponents to shoot a ratio of 30.8% of foul shots to field goal attempts; they won't send the other team to the line and break up the flow of the game.
Notre Dame Minuses
Bad Defense. There's no sugarcoating it. By most metrics, Notre Dame has a terrible defense, allowing more than 1.1 points per possession in Big East play. They don't force turnovers and they don't rebound well, so they are dependent on outscoring teams and allowing teams to shoot from the 3-point arc. (read more after the jump.)
Playmakers. The Irish don't have many players who can create off the dribble. They share the ball and look smooth when they moving the ball, but when Harangody is stifled, the team doesn't have a strong plan B. Granted, Harangody is hard to stop; but when the team doesn't have him, as they won't against St. John's, how will they generate offense?
Lack of Depth. I have no idea who is going to play in the post. Abromaitis? The youngsters Jack Cooley or Mike Broghammer if he's available? The Irish don't play many players, so whoever gets extended minutes will be pretty new to the court, the offense, and the bright lights. They might be ready, but they haven't had practice.
Read more extensive coverage at Calm Before the Storm.
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.