Listen/ See: Toots & the Maytals, Country Roads (video, opens in a new window)
Tip Off: 7:00 PM, Eastern
At: West Virginia Mountaineers
Location: West Virginia University Coliseum, Morgantown, WV
Radio: Bloomberg 1130
Opposition blog/ message board: The Smoking Musket | We Must Ignite This Couch (message board) | Blue Gold News (message board)
Last year: OUCH. What a beating.
Remember Da'Sean Butler shrugging his shoulders after launching another three over Sean Evans' outstretched arms? Butler was hot. He was ballin'. And the Red Storm - who had gone into halftime with an 11 point lead - gave up 57 points, enjoyed a pair of 4-minute scoreless droughts while the West Virginia Mountaineers were throwing threes into the basket like people places dishes in an empty sink. A 79-60 loss was dispiriting.
But not much different than the recent game history with the Mountaineers.
In 2009, West Virginia beat St. John's by 23.
In 2008, St. John's - featuring 6 of the current roster of seniors - took the Mountaineers into overtime. That was the last time St. John's was competitive against the Mountaineers. And while many other squads have taken out their aggression on the Red Storm, West Virginia and Connecticut loom large as teams that really dropped hammers on the Johnnies, exposing the previous coaching staff's failings for all to see. They met earlier that season; the 'Eers beat the Johnnies by 9, and it wasn't all that close.
In 2007, West Virginia crushed the Johnnies 73-46.
And so forth back to January of 2002, when St. John's beat the Mountaineers by 19. That's a lot of losses, and half of them have been blowouts. Getting beasted like that every single time the teams meet up hurts a fans' heart.
Did You Know? Word is that former coach Norm Roberts will be in the studio analyzing the game for SNY.
Storm Warnings, Pluses and Minuses, and Keys to the Game below>>
Storm Warnings: West Virginia
West Virginia is a difficult team to figure out. Unlike some of the Big East squads, they don't enter conference play with a gaudier record than expected. Nor do they come in as a disappointment. The Mountaineers are... incomplete? Boring? Hard to figure? The team could be 10-0, with better free throw shooting in one game and if they protected a lead against a questionable Miami Hurricanes team.
Moreover, there are few clear leaders. Kevin Jones leads the team in minutes. But he should have been the superstar, after being an integral part of last year's attack. He has been solid overall - especially in the paint on offense - but he has been poor at the line and poor outside of the arc. Casey Mitchell seemed to emerge as a scoring leader, but he keeps wandering into Huggins' doghouse. Deniz Kilicli is tough but like an overeager Great Dane puppy, knocking things over - the Marmaduke of basketball?
For more on the Mountaineers, read the Q and A with The Smoking Musket.
Mountaineer Positive - Offensive Rebounding/ Tough Guy Offense: The 'Eers do a lot of their scoring in the paint... in part because the dominate the offensive glass, grabbing over 42% of available offensive rebounds. And they draw fouls well (48.2% free throw rate). West Virginia wants to play an ugly style of offense, bludgeoning opponents into submission. The Red Storm needs to clear the glass by any means necessary and limit their chances to score. Keeping them off the glass undoes the strengths of Huggins' system.
Mountaineer Positive - Perimeter Defense: Opponents are avoiding taking three pointers against the Mountaineers. And when they do, they hit 27% of their attempts. The Red Storm don't look to score from the outside, so this may not be a serious issue.
Mountaineer Negative - Turnovers: Point guards Truck Bryant and Joe Mazzulla aren't terrible with turning the ball over, but they will make mistakes. And the Mountaineers as a whole don't force many turnovers. This plays to St. John's strengths.
Mountaineer Negative - Defensive Rebounding: I could add "diversified scoring" to this list, but the lack of scoring options outside of Mitchell/ Jones/ Bryant hasn't hurt the Mountaineers yet. But the defensive rebounding is interesting. Forward John Flowers is the only player who corrals more than 15% of offensive boards, strange to see on a team made to be physical and tough. It was similar last year, leading one to believe this is a stylistic choice by the coaching staff. Still, offensive rebounding can become a way for St. John's to put up points.
Keys to the Game
Keep them From Second Shots. Coach Bob Huggins’ teams attack the offensive glass with strength and abandon. They are incredibly physical. If St. John’s can clear their misses by grabbing defensive rebounds, they will cut down on the Mountaineers’ scoring.
Maintain Turnover Ratio. The Red Storm have done a very good job at holding on to the ball and forcing turnovers. Can the team continue to win the turnover battle? If so, the Johnnies stand a chance for some surprise wins. Against West Virginia – like against other opponents – St. John’s can’t afford to give up possible shots.
Attack and Draw Fouls. The Mountaineers’ defense can be hard to figure out – fundamentally sound, protective of the interior, and disruptive. The Red Storm offense will find it difficult to run crisp sets; they will need to outfight West Virginia and play a physical style of basketball. The Mountaineers also commit a good number of fouls. St. John’s needs to get to the free throw line… and hit their shots.
Cover Casey Mitchell. Mitchell is the team’s most dangerous offensive player, drawing fouls, driving, and hitting outside jumpers. St. John’s has struggled to cover perimeter shooters in the past. The team has to make a point to keep a hand in Mitchell’s face at all times and keep him from getting the ball.
Find a Way to Run/ Impose Pace. West Virginia plays a more controlled pace than St. John’s; they set up their defense and outwork their opponents, wear them down with physical defense. But if St. John’s can get some points on the run, they can gain control of the game – and score efficiently.
St. John's will win if: they get a strong perimeter performance, good scoring performances from DJ Kennedy and Dwight Hardy (and to a lesser extent, Justin Brownlee), and rebounding from Justin Burrell.