The St. John's Red Storm (9-12, 3-6 Big East) head to Chicago to face DePaul (11-9, 2-6 Big East) at the Allstate Arena on Wednesday night, hoping to win a second Big East game in a row.
DePaul has had a week off since their road win at Rutgers; St. John's is coming off of a thrilling second half of basketball against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, in a game that saw the potential of Moe Harkless - and the team - on full display.
Both teams are riding waves of hope a little prouder than they have in the past, despite their records. And both teams are looking to gain momentum within their programs, within their young rosters, with a win. The second half of the Big East season starts. In a league where 12 teams have between 3 and 6 losses - including both the Johnnies and the Blue Demons - a late surprise surge is possible.
More, below the fold.
We have to manufacture the same type of energy we've had over the last three games. - Mike Dunlap, pregame
5 of DePaul's 6 Big East losses are by 14 points or more, as are 5 of St. John's 6 conference losses. Down at the bottom of the league table, there are no "trap" games. If the Red Storm can't get excited to bring a Big East level effort in this game, that's a problem (that can most likely be attributed to youth). The Red Storm cannot afford to look ahead to Syracuse.
The funny thing about a matchup between two teams at the butt end of the Big East: both teams can reasonably convince themselves that they can win. Or more accurately, both teams' fans can; high-level athletes in basketball believe they can play a good enough team game to pull out a victory. They have to.
One big factor for St. John's tonight will be that belief. The teams' stars have to continue to remember that the effort and passion they displayed against Duke has to be there every game. No game is a gimme; at 3-6 in the conference, and given the blowouts both St. John's and DePaul have suffered in conference play, no opponent can be disregarded. The Red Storm need Moe to be, well, "heartless."
Mood Music: Kanye West, Heartless (video, opens in new window)
Tip Off: 8:30 PM, Eastern
Vs: DePaul Blue Demons (11-9, 2-6 Big East)
Location: Allstate Arena, Rosemont, IL
TV: SNY | ESPN3 Radio: Bloomberg 1130
Opposition blog/ message board: Under the El | Demons Abyss (message board) | We Are DePaul (message board)
Pomeroy page ($)
See also: Phil Greene set to show off new-look style in Chicago homecoming | 5 questions on DePaul with Under the El and Blue Demons Nation | Storm Warnings: St. John's: St. John's midterm report: team + player reviews and statistics
Storm Warnings: DePaul
Since the arrival of change-agent Oliver Purnell, who has turned around struggling programs at Clemson, Radford, Dayton, and Old Dominion, the DePaul Blue Demons having been trying to turn the corner for a year and a half. Known for playing fast, the Blue Demons are certainly more exciting than they previously had been.
But that excitement comes with some fundamental flaws - some of which are a result of the 180-degree turn in personnel to run Purnell's system, as opposed to Jerry Wainwright's plodding, jump shooting style. The Blue Demons will give major minutes to athletes who seem ill-suited to force turnovers, attack the offensive glass, alter shots in transition, and defend on the run.
DePaul is getting better, but from where they're coming from, there is a lot of improvement before they're competitive in the Big East. That said, the Blue Demons have squeezed out two wins. And the Blue Demons have a number of athletic emerging young players alongside sophomore stars Brandon Young and Cleveland Melvin.
The last game between the two teams at the Allstate Arena was a triple-overtime 90-82 affair that St. John's won at the end of another tough season... but the game got no commemorative website.
Blue Demon strength: The turnover factor. DePaul forces opponents to turn over the ball on 23.5% of possessions, while turning the ball over 18.5% of the time. For Phil Greene, Malik Stith, and others forced to bring the ball up, the passing and dribbling under pressure must be done with great care.
Blue Demon strength: An array of possible breakout candidates. On any night, Brandon Young, Jeremiah Kelly, Moses Morgan, and Jamee Crockett (coming off of a career-high 20 points with 5/7 three-point shooting) could all start raining threes on opponents.
Blue Demon weakness: Defense. Playing their fast style - with assorted gambles, reaches, and lunges - has given the Big East many opportunities to get shots at the rim, to take open threes, and to basically score at will. DePaul is 15th in the league at defending the three-point line (allowing teams to shoot 39% on them) and 16th at defending inside the arc, where Big East teams are hitting a ludicrous 56% of their shots. Since St. John's scores most of their points inside the paint, if DePaul can't clog up the middle the Johnnies should find scoring opportunities. Note that Krys Faber can be a good position defender, and Cleveland Melvin does block shots.
Blue Demon weakness: Rebounding. Much like St. John's, the Blue Demons play a number of players who aren't adept or interested rebounders, and it shows. Faced with a team smaller than them, DePaul might find their rebounding personality; it's something to watch for.
Five Points/ Keys to the Game
Good transition offense. St. John's needs to run through the DePaul pressure and traps like a knife through a fully-cooked cake, not getting caught in some sticky situation* between the baseline and the halfcourt line. The players have to be vocal and come back to the ball. (*yes, I know that analogy didn't quite work. But I have you thinking of cake, don't I?)
No half-steppin'. St. John's has to bring the full effort on the road against DePaul. Phil Greene has to be focused in his return home, Moe Harkless has to punish defenders and the rim like he did against Duke, and D`Angelo Harrison has to be aggressive but wise enough not to take every easy shot he thinks he's open to take.
Get back and shut the door. St. John's has to make sure that the path to the rim for the Blue Demons isn't easy (without fouling). Cleveland Melvin, Charles McKinney, and Jamee Crockett cannot be allowed to get easy runs at the rim - they will finish loudly. The Blue Demons all have roles, and St. John's has to disrupt Brandon Young's drives, make Morgan and Kelly uncomfortable on the three-point line, and keep Krys Faber from getting deep position. Amir Garrett and Greene in transition are key.
Work the glass. DePaul will likely look to get some offensive rebounds against the rebound-challenged Red Storm. Sir`Dominic Pointer and God`sgift Achiuwa have to battle and make rebounding difficult.
Maintain defensive control. The game can get fast and wild when DePaul is involved. The Red Storm have to make sure they can dictate when they want to run, and when they want to work the ball. A pure running game will tire out the Johnnies and favor the Blue Demons.
Prediction: St. John's should be able to slow down the DePaul running game if they come with high-level effort. With DePaul's defensive permissiveness, Moe Harkless could have a big night, and bring Sir`Dominic Pointer and Amir Garrett with him. St. John's wins, 84-77.