Listen/ See: Arcade Fire, Cold Wind (video link, opens in new window)
Tip Off: 9:30 PM, Eastern
Vs: vs. Drake University Bulldogs
Location: Sullivan Arena, Anchorage, AK
TV: Fox Sports Pacific
Opposition blog/ message board: Drake: Bulldogs Roundball (blog), Drake Nation (message board)
St. John's sure won't keep games boring. Late into Thursday morning, the Red Storm fought to a late tie against Ball State, and put the opponent away in overtime. Justin Brownlee was the force of nature in the game; and the team's free throw shooting was one of the goats (see recap). An inability to force missed shots in the second half was also a serious issue.
Tonight, St. John's plays the Drake Bulldogs from Des Moines, IA, for a berth in the championship game.
St. John's is currently an 11 point favorite. While I scoff at this, it should be known that Ball State is probably a more formidable opponent than the young Drake Bulldogs. The Bulldogs have 1 senior who was a JUCO transfer last year, 1 returning junior, 1 transfer from Arizona State, and freshmen and sophomores.
There is talent among the group, but they are young. And both Drake and their opponent last night, Southern Utah, are picked at the bottom of their respective conferences. Drake looks to minimize turnovers and get good shots; a pair of young players look to emerge on the Drake squad.
The two players I would worry about first are Rayvonte Rice (#24) and Seth VanDeest (#45), followed by Ryan Wedel (#10); Aaron Hawley (#2), Ben Simons (#34) and Arizona transfer Kraidon Woods (#22) could be factors.
VanDeest is a little awkward, but at 6'11, the sophomore is decently mobile and has a soft touch from 10-15 feet out (and will even shoot a three). He shot a basket on the move against Southern Utah and drew a good number of fouls against their tall front line. He plays with confidence. Expect to see the team clear out space for him to work in isolation.
Rayvonte Rice is a player I have seen personally (at least at the Chicago-area all-star game), and he is a big guard. At 6'4, he is built like a forward but plays guard; he has some power, some athleticism, and a LOT of activity. The freshman hasn't shot well from outside yet, but he has that ability. Rayvonte can be a really pesky "and-1" guy, a player who draws fouls out of his hustle and drives. Lazy defense and not boxing out on the defensive glass could make Rice a star in the matchup.
Wedel is the team's lone senior, and though he is around the size of an average human being, seems very willing to put shots up whether in position or not-quite-squared-up. Along with Hawley and Simons, he focuses his efforts more on the perimeter. The three of them and Frank Wiseler all shot solidly from outside the arc last year.
Plus/ Minus - Drake
Getting Their Possessions Worth: Drake has protected the ball very well, turning it over on 18.5% of their possessions. Given the beating they took from Iowa State, and how early it is in the season, that's pretty good.
Theivery: Drake has also forced a lot of turnovers (25.3% of opponents' possessions). St. John's has been good at protecting the ball, and they need to continue to be mindful of Drake jumping the occasional passing lane.
Shooting (So Far): Wow. They're shooting an effective field goal percentage of 39.9%, scoring .88 points per possession? If you don't follow tempo-free stats, that is terrible. That number is skewed by the complete pasting at Iowa State, where they scored a woeful .6 points per possession. Honestly, I've never seen that kind of awful. But they might be better than that. How much? It's hard to say.
Defensive Rebounding: St. John's has been no great shakes at rebounding the basketball, but Drake is only getting to 64% of available defensive rebounds. St. John's should be able to crash the boards and score on putbacks.
Did You Know? Drake coach Mark Phelps coached under Herb Sendek at North Carolina State and Arizona State; forward Kraidon Woods played at Arizona State before transferring to Binghamton and then on to Drake (when Binghamton's program had its well-documented problems)
Keys to the Game
Play Confidently. The Red Storm players sometimes look as if they're trying to remember what the right thing to do is on offense and defense. They have to play with conviction and confidence - screen hard, go 100% all game, make mistakes of trying too hard, not of being unsure of where to be and finding themselves out of position on defense or standing around on offense.
Battle Down Low. VanDeest may prove to be a capable big man against St. John's lineup. But he and his mates cannot own the paint. As a Big East team, the Red Storm have to make an impact - getting to rebounds, limiting the big man's touches, and keeping paint scoring low.
Guard Play. D.J. Kennedy and/ or Dwight Hardy have to make some shots to make the offense run well. They are the offensive stars, and have been reluctant in one case, and struggling to find the range in the other.
Take Care of Business. Put the team away. Hit the free throws. Communicate. Get a hand up in the face of the shooters.
Win the Turnover Battle. Continue to make smart decisions with the ball. The Johnnies are doing well at hanging on to the basketball, and it may be part of the hesitation on offense. Hopefully, it'll all come together in an aggressive brand of basketball that doesn't involve ridiculous turnovers.