Listen/ See: Minus the Bear, Ice Monster (video link, opens in new window)
Tip Off: 12:00 AM, Eastern
Vs: vs. Arizona State Sun Devils
Location: Sullivan Arena, Anchorage, AK
TV: Fox Sports Pacific/ MSG+
Radio: Storm Tracker All-Access
Opposition blog/ message board: House of Sparky (blog), Pitchfork Nation (blog), Sparky's Roundball (message board)
After thrashing the Drake Bulldogs last night, St. John's challenges the Arizona State Sun Devils in tonight's Great Alaska Shootout final, which tips off at 12:00 AM Eastern. The Sun Devils, led by Herb Sendek, will be the Johnnies' first major-conference opponent. A win could be the bellwether for future success, along with being a sign of progress made in teaching new lessons to his senior-laden squad.
Last night, the Red Storm crushed Drake with an excellent defensive effort, containing Drake's big man Seth VanDeest and forcing missed shot after missed shot, rattling the young Drake team. It seemed like things were coming together for the Red Storm.
A good win, but it's important to remember that St. John's played a developing Drake team that lost just as badly to Iowa State. Drake didn't seem to have a lot of movement or energy in their offense, and missed open shots from what have been the weak spots in St. John's defense, the corner and along the baseline. Arizona State shooters Trent Lockett and Rihards Kuksiks can make that shot.
The Sun Devil team has been paced in its scoring by the 6'4" sophomore guard Lockett in the early going. Lockett will be looked to early and often to score. He uses screens well to start his drives and is very willing to take a 15-foot jump shot or drive. He doesn't look that quick shooting the three-pointer, and has only shot 3 this year (making 2). He's also drawn a lot of fouls and passes as well.
Kuksiks will get a lot of open looks from the corner. The team is trying former Rhode Island signee Kyle Cain, a freshman forward, in the starting lineup to try and get some production from the forwards; Ruslan Pateev is tall, but is awkward and has not rebounded the ball well.
* Slow and Controlled Play. Arizona State has earned a reputation for slow, methodical, controlled play. Their slow pace belies their efficiency. Under Sendek, the Sun Devils score and defend, even if their games aren't filled with pulse-pounding back-and-forth play or quick passing. They just play a slow pace, and hang back in a zone, with moments where they step out to force turnovers. They deny deep penetration and force long jump shots.
* Screens to Shot Freedom. The Sun Devils have been paced in its scoring by 6'4" sophomore guard Trent Lockett. Lockett will be looked to early and often to score. He uses screens well to start his drives and is very willing to take a 15-foot jump shot or drive. He doesn't look that quick shooting the three-pointer, and has only shot 3 this year (making 2). He's also drawn a lot of fouls and passes as well. Jamelle McMillan and Rihards Kuksiks will also take shots off of some kind of screening action.
* Guard Rebounding. St. John's has to be actively hunting long rebounds off of missed threes; the Sun Devils were simply terrible at clearing long rebounds and gave up second chances. Those second chances and fouls Arizona State committed made the game closer than it should have been against Weber State.
* Dependent on Perimeter Players. The Sun Devils didn't show a lot of movement against zone defense last night, and were led by guard play... because the post play was low-impact. St. John's needs to take pains to fight through the screens and guard the perimeter players, who will hunt for their shot when they are open, or create on the 15-foot pull-up attempt.
So far this year, the Devils have been off, bricking shots from the outside in particular. A lot of that errancy (if that's a word) falls on Rihards Kuksiks, who has been one of the most prolific shooters in Arizona State history. He's made 8 of 30 shots. Ty Abbott, who shot 40% from the three last year, has shot 3 of 13 (23%). Is it the loss of point guard Derek Glasser from last year's team? Is it the loss of the post presence from last year's team, Eric Boateng (even if he didn't put up a lot of shots)?
They're shooting enough to get by, but a number of players have underwhelmed in the early going.
Keys to the Game
Find Lockett and Kuksiks. The team has to be aware of where those two at all times - on the break, through screens, and when they drift into the corner. Both will get their shots off, but St. John's can minimize Lockett's drives and make Kuksiks put the ball on the floor. Both can score from those positions, but they will be less destructive.
Penetrate and Shoot. The Arizona State forwards can be awkward defensively; the Red Storm should attack the paint with strength and look to kick the ball out to shooters. Passing the ball around the perimeter or taking jump shots without making the defender move just plays to the Sun Devils' defensive strengths. Dwight Hardy and DJ Kennedy need to have impactful games.
Go Even Harder. St. John's has to create chaos, and come with energy. Turnovers, deflections, and physical play will help the team get closer to the championship. Can they maintain that energy for 40 minutes against an opponent that has the answers for their athleticism?
Own the Glass. St. John's needs to get second chances on offense, especially on long shots. I don't expect the Sun Devils to crash their offensive glass, but there will be long rebounds from ASU's deep shot attempts.
Free Throws. Arizona State keeps games close, and in what should be a game with a generally slow pace, free throws – getting to the line and actually making the shots – will play a huge role tonight.