Listen/ See: Michelle Shocked, Anchorage (video link, opens in new window)
Tip Off: 1:45 AM, Eastern
Vs: Ball State University (2-1)
Location: Sullivan Arena, Anchorage, AK
TV: Fox Sports Pacific/ MSG +
Radio: Storm Tracker All-Access
Opposition blog/ message board: Scout forum: Ball State Insider (doesn't that sound dirty?)
The Great Alaska Shootout will host the St. John's Red Storm for three games in lovely Anchorage, Alaska, where winter hasn't really hit yet. The Johnnies get three exempt games (games that count as 1 toward a team's 30-game regular season limit) against mostly middling competition; but a possible final against Arizona State will be solid for the team's perception and RPI rating for postseason play.
The first opponent is Ball State (the Cardinals) from Muncie, Indiana - the school where David Letterman went to be a C student when he couldn't get into Indiana U. Consider Ball State another mid-major that will take chances to bring in talent. Jesse Berry is a freshman shooter off the bench who focuses more on outside shooting. Berry was recruited to the University of Dayton but was released from his letter of intent after shoplifting and assault charges; he had looks from high-majors and offers from high-mid-majors.
Coach Billy Taylor (no relation to the fictional Coach Eric Taylor) was put on blast by Peoria High School coach for "denying admission" to a player his staff had recruited, and signing another player a few days later (who they seem to have liked more). Bad business.
The Ball State team is led by Jarrod Jones, a 6'9" forward who excels at rebounding and will be the team's first look down low early in the game. He is helped by sophomore slashing scorer Jauwan Scaife from right in Muncie. Randy Davis plays the point and hands out many assists, Pierre Sneed is the defensive swingman, and Malik Perry out of Philadelphia looks like a rec league center or linebacker - he goes 6'4, 240 pounds. The aforementioned Jesse Berry leads the scoring off the bench, with help from freshman forward Matt Kamieniecki.
Meanwhile, it's hard to know what St. John's is really going to look like after a tough loss and a turnaround game just a day and a half later. Here's hoping to see some more energy, consistency, and shot-making from the Red Storm this go-'round. We do know that Coach Lavin is planning on playing Dele Coker and Sean Evans more, and taking the team to a dog sledding compound.
I love Steve Lavin.
Teams' Plus/ Minus
Position Defense: The Cardinals don't do anything too sexy on defense - no team shot blocking, no big steal numbers - but they have been very good in getting other teams to miss shots without fouling. St. John's has to make their defense work, get out of position, and draw some fouls.
Protecting the Ball: Even in the drubbing from Butler, Ball State managed to hold on to the ball, only turning the rock over 14.5% of their possessions. It's always helpful for teams to get all the shots they can muster. And despite not hitting those shots, Ball State is getting fouled and putting up free throw attempts. Forcing some turnovers will put the Cardinals in an uncomfortable position. They play a slow-paced game and are not meant for an up-and-down contest with wild possessions.
Getting the Orange Thing in the Hoop Thing: You may see that the Cardinals actually are shooting 35.3% from beyond the arc. That would be more helpful, of course, if they took more than 20.9% of their shots from beyond the arc. They are shooting 42.2% on two-point attempts (granted, around what St. John's is shooting), and not getting to offensive rebounds.
To their credit, they are also getting to the free throw line with great regularity. But none of their main offensive weapons have shot well. Jarrod Jones is also shooting 56% at the free throw line. Note that Jauwan Scaife and Randy Davis both shot much better from outside last year, and shoot well from the free throw line; there could be breakout performances from them. But if the Johnnies defend well, there should be lots of missed jump shots caroming about.
Rebounding: The Cardinals are only getting to 29.7% of their many misses. And they don't clear their opponents' misses. The lack of rebounding on both ends is going to be a problem at some point, when they face a team that can score on put backs; their first two opponents were certainly not world-beaters. The Red Storm may be able to take advantage of this with aggressive play.
Rebound the Misses: The Red Storm have rebounded 43.2% of their misses. That number will decrease, but the squad is playing hard and trying to get more shot attempts - one of their strengths under the previous coaching staff. With the athletes the team has at forward, this needs to continue.
Shoot the Three: Good! It's not a sound the team's fans heard as much last year on the radio or TV when a jump shot went up. But so far, the Red Storm have had a fairly hot start from the outside of the arc, shooting over 36% from distance - much better than the 33% they shot last year. The team is taking 3's at a higher rate, and that's without the contributions of Justin Burrell and DJ Kennedy (2 three-pointers attempted between them).
Three-Point Defense: The team struggled to mark and defend 3-point shooters in transition in both games. Both teams play similar styles, so perhaps it's a style of offense that's primed to attack this kind of zone or that the St. John's players just aren't good at defending. Either way, this has to improve.
Defensive Rebounding: Interestingly, the inside play by St. John's was mediocre despite the team's superior size; the Columbia Lions feasted on offensive rebounds, collected mostly by their undersized yet burly forwards. Box out.
Did You Know? The Ball State players have some interesting bloodlines:
+ Jauwan Scaife is a cousin of Ball State star Bonzi Wells.
+ Matt Kamienecki's name should sound familiar; his father is former Yankee pitcher Scott Kamieniecki.
+ Chicago native Pierre Sneed is a cousin of former DePaul star Steven Hunter.
Keys to the Game
Don't Let Them Get Confident. The Cardinals will scrap in one of their two chances to knock off a Big East opponent (they play DePaul on December 11th). The Red Storm can't leave shooters wide open and let the great equalizer, the three-point shot, keep Ball State closer than they should be. The defense has to find the guards (and Jarrod Jones) in transition.
Defend the Paint. Stopping Jones and any slashing guards, and keeping the beefy but undersized frontline in check on both ends of the court are related. The Johnnies have to find a way to maintain a strong post presence.
Hot Shots in Alaska. The scoring from the Red Storm has to continue - preferably aided by efforts from the frontcourt. Ball State might play less zone against the Red Storm, and the Johnnies have to attack with ball movement, set up the shots, and knock them down.
No Thanksgiving Day Parade. The team has to play passionately but in position; fouling the Cardinals and giving them free points with the clock stopped is a way to let the poor shooting team from Muncie right back into the contest.
Smart Play. St. John's has to continue to keep turnovers to a minimum.