I would have rather have seen Louisville in this Big east Tournament game. I really would have.
Or Notre Dame.
Syracuse is one of the worst matchups in the Big East Tournament for St. John's, because the Orange forces teams to shoot and run very precise offense. St. John's has gotten better at running offense... but they're not particularly good at the jump shot.
The last time the two teams met, was a 76-59 drubbing in Madison Square Garden. Syracuse decisively beat the snot out of St. John's for the last 20-30 minutes, even if the Johnnies got the score close; St. John's didn't look particularly sharp, or like they believed they could win.
Things have changed... but how much?
The game at 2PM (-ish) will be both a solid barometer of where St. John's is in playing against/ contending with zones, and a chance to try some new things. The game doesn't really matter; a loss to Syracuse isn't a bad loss. A win would be a very good win, though. Could it affect the Red Storm's seeding? Probably not much, depending on what happens to other top teams across the basketball landscape.
The one plus of this matchup is that sometimes, teams get the double bye only to have a lackluster first half against their determined opponents. Teams relax, hang out, and it takes them a while to get that energy going. I don't know why. I suspect that some coaches hold back a few tricks if they know their seeding is not going to be wildly affected by a Big East Tournament loss; they save their players' legs for the games that REALLY matter, those neutral site games in the NCAA Tournament.
More on this game, below the fold.
FIRST, I don't mind Syracuse. I had surprisingly solid Thai food there on a road trip, I drank well on another trip; as upstate/ central New York goes, it may not be Ithaca or Rochester, but Syracuse isn't half bad.
I don't even mind the team, coached by Hall of Fame nose-picker Jim Boeheim. But it's great that the Big East Tournament is held in New York City on St. John's home court. Kids who have chosen to play in places like Syracuse can get a taste of Senegalese food, for example. Or go out late into the evening. Or see buildings more than 15 stories high. New York has that big time feel to it.
Of course, this is one matchup where the Garden will not feel like the big-time home for the Johnnies. The Syracuse fans are everywhere; they're in your office, they're on the street, they're in the hipster bars, they're in the lounges and clubs, they're in the boardrooms. Everywhere.
And Syracuse is a solid basketball team. St. John's will struggle with their famed 2-3 matchup zone; they run it well, and their guards have gotten much better at defending in it.
ST. JOHN'S NEEDS TO run better offense against the zone. The ball needs to move inside and out quickly, getting the Cuse players to move and leave gaps for D.J. kennedy and Dwight Hardy to get open in.
St. John's will need to hit jump shots.
St. John's will need to get some transition baskets.
And the Red Storm can't be lazy getting back - the Orange will kill in transition.
The Red Storm also need to defend the perimeter with different looks.
And Rick Jackson's touches need to be kept at "minimal". Sometimes, he even passes the ball. And when a big man can suck in the defense and then make the smart play, that's dangerous.
AN APPEAL about yesterday's finish:
I know that fans will think that St. John's deserves some kind of comeuppance, some basketball karma for the way they defeated St. John's.
This line of thinking makes one think St. John's cheated, or had some kind of special deal with the referees.
Obviously, that's not true, but casual watchers aren't going to be logical. It's a shame. I'd like the Red Storm to become villains in the Big East for better reasons - for New York "playground" physical play, for having a bunch of New York guys who look like someone's idea of central casting thugs with muscles and attitude. That's a reason to be hated, as the 98-2000 teams were - they were, in a lot of ways, very New York, even if they all weren't from New York. Tenacious, defensively-minded players who performed out of position, who were physical, who held down the rep of the Garden like it was their special corner.
But don't hate them because Jim Burr and Tim Higgins missed a call (and they missed a few calls on both sides, by the way).