When St. John's fans look at the America East's Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC) Retrievers, it's easy to mark the game down as a win and think about what football teams are on, or where to get brunch.
The Retrievers may not seem like much on paper, but a developing St. John's team has made for a pair of adventurous 40 minute games.
With a still-recovering Coach Steve Lavin back on the sidelines and two games under their belts, the young Red Storm hope to impose their running game on the Retrievers all afternoon. The Johnnies will use the Sunday afternoon game to further develop their defensive principles, to get some players going offensively, and to prepare for Thursday night's marquee matchup against the Arizona WIldcats in the Coaches vs. Cancer/ 2K Sports Classic.
Mood music: Black Milk - Bounce (video, opens in new window.)
Tip Off: 2:00 PM, Eastern
Vs: UMBC Retrievers (0-1)
Location: Carnesecca Arena, New York, NY
TV: ESPN3/ STJ-TV | Radio: Bloomberg Radio AM 1130 | WSJU Sports
Opposition blog/ message board: UMBC Rally Monkey Blog | Unranked America East (conference blog) | America East Forum (message board)
Storm Warnings - UMBC
UMBC comes into the matchup off of a 5-25 season last year, and off of a home loss to the Penn Quakers that wasn't particularly close. The Retrievers are missing their star, Chris De La Rosa. De La Rosa did almost everything for UMBC - he led them in shots taken, in assists (and assisted on 40.8% of his teammates' shots while on the floor, 8th in the nation), free throws, and even rebounded a little.
Again, the team went 5-25.
Coach Randy Monroe sees the many problems - extremely poor defense all over the floor, a gambling guard in De La Rosa who didn't even pick up that many steals, and no ability to score, wrapped in a high speed, ineffective package. They won 5 games last year, came within a possession in one loss, and mostly got blasted off the floor.
Without De La Rosa, who are they?
In need of a change. Friday's loss against Pennsylvania featured 11 players, and for 6, it was their first game in a UMBC uni. The shots went to returning sophomore forward Chase Plummer, who was the only scorer in double digits with 15. Brian Neller took 6 outside shots. He missed them all; in fact the Retrievers went 0-11 from beyond the arc, and 16-37 (43.2%) inside.
Storm Warnings: St. John's
The Red Storm know that they've gotten off to bad starts.
And they know that a big culprit has been the defense. The coaches think the issue has been learning the defense, and they are likely right. But the players feel that a lack of energy is also the culprit. "We start off sluggish," said guard Phil Greene. "When we're down, we're fighting, trying to get steal, and playing real scrappy defense. So we've got to start off with that mentality."
We'll keep an eye on their start. Though the team will at some point have to address their jump shooting woes as well. But that's a breakdown for another day...
Five Points/ Keys to the Game
Constant pressure. The Red Storm's athleticism should win the day for them. But the Johnnies have to remember to execute their defensive plan - extend, react, and contest each shot. Even a lowly team like UMBC can make shots, and outside shots are the great equalizer of college hoops.
Keep it simple early. The Johnnies have a number of players struggling with their shots. The important thing early for D`Angelo Harrison and the rest of the team is to work for the simple shot, wear the other team down, and not try to jumpstart a jumper that has been missing.
Rebound. The Red Storm have found themselves giving up a lot of offensive rebounds - and not getting second chances of their own. Despite some size from Plummer (6'6 230), Jake Wasco (6'8, 235), and Nate Basalyga, the Storm have to find a way to own the glass. If not now, when?
Stay elite. The Red Storm have been excellent at not sending the other team to the free throw line. Opponents have taken 15 free throw attempts against the Storm (a 15% Free throw/ field goal ratio). And St. John's has averaged 9 turnovers in their two games, a 13.4% turnover ratio. If those hold up over the season, they would be giving themselves more chances to win games.
Hit the shots. It's been great watching the Johnnies overwhelm the other teams by getting to the line late, but it would be nice if they hit some shots and put the game out of reach early.
St. John's vs UMBC Prediction: St. John's wins in a bit of a blowout, 82-66.