Listen/ See: The Black Keys, Everlasting Light (live) (video, opens in a new window)
Tip Off: 9:30 PM, Eastern
Vs: Northwestern Wildcats
Location: Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, NY
Radio: Bloomberg 1130
Opposition blogs: Chicago College Basketball | Sippin' On Purple | Lake the Posts | Welsh-Ryan Ramblings
St. John's comes off of a hard-fought win against the Davidson Wildcats to make their way into the Holiday Festival finals. The Red Storm have not won a Holiday Festival since 2005, and the seniors would love to break that un-streak. It's a little embarrassing, considering that St. John's hosts this festival.
Last year's final didn't go very well, with the Cornell Big Red beating the Johnnies with a rain of outside shooting and Jeff Foote's pick and roll play, maintaining a lead for much of the second half. It was tough to watch, and the Johnnies could never get back on top of them. That game deflated the hope and energy the Red Storm and their fans had in their hot start in 2009. It was a gut punch before another poor conference season, even though Cornell proved to be extremely good.
The Red Storm want more than another runner's up trophy. It's time to claim the season's second tournament championship, hang it in the display case, and get closer to cracking that NCAA Tournament ceiling.
Take a look at the 5 question Q and A from John at the Chicago College Basketball blog as you read up on the Storm Warnings, Keys to the Game, all below.>>
Storm Warnings: Northwestern
The Wildcats have beat a lot of low to middling opponents this year; Georgia Tech is the one team from a major conference that they have faced. So to them, this is the GAME OF LEGITIMACY. Expect the Wildcats to come out with fire and energy, whip out a few wrinkles the Johnnies would not have seen on tape, and to try to show that they are NCAA Tournament worthy. As you may know, the Wildcats have never been to the NCAA Tournament. Ever. The NCAA tournament started in 1939.
They want to break that streak. The Wildcats have some length, and will trap out of their 1-3-1 zone defense. Michael "Juice" Thompson sometimes plays under the basket in this defense, and it works to get length out on shooters. For more on the 1-3-1, Sippin' On Purple has a nice review of how it works.
Northwestern Plus - Turnovers: On offense, the Wildcats do not turn the ball over. They are almost as good per possessions as St. John's in that regard; both squads are in the top 10 nationally. St. John's actually forces turnovers, more than the Wildcats do; but the Wildcats have been far better defending the perimeter. And how could they not? St. John's is allowing 39% shooting from the perimeter, 301st in the nation, according to KenPom.
Northwestern Plus - Outside Shooting: The matchup of Northwestern's perimeter offense and St. John's perimeter defense is scary. St. John's allows 39% shooting (301 in the nation). Teams are taking nearly 42% of their shots from outside the arc (331st in the nation), and opposing teams enjoy assists on almost 70% of their made baskets (344th in the nation). All of this means that opponents are finding good passes to good shooters who sink good outside shots. All of which is NOT good for the St. John's defense.
Northwestern is currently the best three-point shooting team in the country, hitting 44.3% of their outside shots. They take 39.4% of their shots from distance (40th in the nation) and have assists on 64% of their made baskets (20th in the nation). It's like learning that witches melt in water and you're holding a hose valve.
Northwestern Minus - Interior Defense: There are shots to be had in the zone with ball movement. I don't know why their interior defense is 224th in the nation with the height they have, but they have given up a solid percentage inside. The perimeter defense hasn't been top notch, but just good enough to keep them in the blowouts. Could a faster, quicker team take advantage of their holes better? Possibly.
Northwestern Minus - Untested Bench: The bench players really don't log a lot of time. This hasn't been a problem, and other teams have played iron man basketball; still, one wonders what would happen if Shurna and/ or Juice Thompson had to sit with 2 fouls for much of the first half.
Did You Know?: Starting guard Drew Crawford's father is a prominent NBA official, Dan Crawford.
Keys to the Game
Slow Them Down. To win this game, Northwestern has to have an off shooting night, Thompson and Shurna need to be bottled up, and the Wildcats need to have that confused and trapped in a cage look. I don't think the Johnnies will force many turnovers, but some would help disrupt the team from Evanston.
Squeeze The Opportunity. The Red Storm cannot go on a long scoring drought. The Wildcats are talented at getting the ball to rip the bottom of the net, so St. John's has to put up a scoring performance from all players to compete in this game. The zone will be hard to get around, but the Johnnies have to get good looks wherever they choose to shoot. And they cannot have those turnovers that occurred last night.
Defend the Three Better. Whether it's man or zone defense, something has to change in the way the Red Storm defend outside shots in tonight's game. This is similar to "Slow Them Down" but it has to be stressed. The Wildcats are dependent on their three-pointers to score. St. John's gives up a high percentage of made three-point attempts. That's a bad combination, and the defense has to find a way to flip the script tonight. When they hit their threes, the Wildcats can go on long runs.
Physical, Physical. The one advantage St. John's may have is years of being physical. The Wildcats face and will face physical play; but St. John's has to make a lot of contact. Preferably not on defense after Shurna has shot a deep jumper; rather, the Johnnies need to attack them on offense and make them defend with their hands, pick up fouls.
Rebound. No second shots for the Wildcats, and St. John's has to dominate their own offensive glass and get more shots.