Coming off of a home win at St. Francis, the St. John's Red Storm continue to develop as a young basketball team. The St. Francis game was the first contest where the Johnnies led from beginning to end, playing a mix of man and zone defenses to keep their opponents from getting many clean perimeter looks.
This Saturday, the Red Storm face a different challenge in the Northeastern Huskies. Coach Bill Coen - who worked with current Providence head coach Ed Cooley under Al Skinner at Boston College - has a tall, tough team that looks to score inside. The challenge for the Storm will be in defending the paint.
Mood music: Little Dragon, My Step (video, opens in new window.)
Tip Off: 4:00 PM, Eastern
Vs: Northeastern Huskies (2-1)
Location: Carnesecca Arena, New York, NY
TV: ESPN3 | Radio: Bloomberg Radio AM 1130, WSJU
Northeastern Huskies: Storm Warnings
Last year's Northeastern team went 11-20, 6-12 in the Colonial Athletic Association. The Huskies were a young team, and were better late, defeating Final Four participant VCU and NCAA Tourney participant UNC-Asheville in a Bracketbusters game. Coach Bill Coen considered last year a learning experience, as he shepherded one of the youngest teams in the country last season.
This year, the Huskies are 2-1, with a road win against Boston University, a win against a reeling Southern Illinois team, and a loss to U Mass. The Huskies have decent height on their roster, with the shortest starter standing at 6'2 (point guard Jonathan Lee), some promising forwards, and they shoot well from the free throw line. Their pace is slow and deliberate, but their offense is led by attacks from Lee.
In the past, they have run the flex offense that Al Skinner used at Boston College. The offense involved a lot of ball reversal and baseline screens at Boston College, so the Johnnies' forwards have to be aware of their opponents' movements and when to switch.
Will the Huskies run something different against the zone? Possibly.
Northeastern: Strengths/ Weaknesses
Huskies Strength: Offensive rebounding. The Huskies rebound over 41% of their own misses, led by 6'7 freshman forward Reggie Spencer and 6'5 defensive stalwart Alwayne Bigby. But the roster has players who can crash the boards from the bench as well, including the 6'10 Rian Pierson. The Huskies have taken a higher percentage of their shots from inside the arc than St. John's has. God`sgift Achiuwa and Maurice Harkless have to work to keep the Northeastern players off of the boards.
Huskies Strength: Getting to the line. Shooting guard Joel Smith, forward Kauri Black, and Jonathan Lee lead a parade of players to the free throw line; they draw 2 free throws for every 5 shots. Forcing the Huskies to take shots from the perimter - where they prefer to avoid shooting and only make 26.3% - will be key, so expect to see the matchup zone for much of the game from St. John's.
Huskies Weakness: Turnovers. Northeastern has been great at finding ways to score, but have diluted that strength with turnovers in all three games they have played. 6'8 guard/ forward QUincy Ford has been a culprit from the bench, as has starter Joel Smith and Bigby.
Huskies Weakness: Hackery. Northeastern has allowed an average of 25 free throw attempts from their opponents. And they have not faced the talent and quickness of the Red Storm yet. Kauri Black is averaging 3.7 fouls per game in 28 minutes per game; Reggie Spencer is giving up 4 fouls per game in 25 minutes; Lee and Smith are around 2 fouls in over 33 minutes per. Clearly, Northeastern is prone to fouling. So aggressive action from Moe Harkless, Nurideen Lindsey, and D`Angelo Harrison should continue to get the Storm chances form the line.
The Five Points a/k/a Keys to the Game
Drive/ transition attack. The Huskies are foul prone, and the Red Storm have been excellent at drawing fouls. The team has to look to attack, and avoid easy outside looks.
Defensive rebounds. It's always helpful to force misses at the other end and get to the defensive rebounds to power the transition offense, so board work will be key. The Huskies aren't adept outside shooters (so far), so they will look to generate points with activity on the glass.
Defensive awareness. St. John's active hands and defensive awareness should be able to force turnovers with the press.
Thanksgiving Gifts. While it's important that God`sgift makes a strong impact on the court, the possible emergence of Sir`Dominic Pointer and D`Angelo Harrison could be a huge help for the Red Storm. Their ability to score from the outside should draw defenders a step away from the paint, allowing more chances for the interior players.
Free throws. As a team that sometimes struggles to shoot, St. John's has to maximize its transition opportunities by hitting free throws. The team has won despite their misses, but games can be lost at the line, especially to tough emerging squads like Northeastern.
Prediction: St. John's continues winning at Carnesecca with a 69-63 win.