The development of this year's St. John's team has been incremental - slower than some would like. Coach Steve Lavin plans for the team to peak in February and March, and each game is a step toward that goal. Fighting Syracuse with energy is one step, despite the 68-63 loss.
Taking care of non-conference business is another step. The Red Storm, despite their 6-3 record, stumbled out of the gates in each of their games on campus, needing late comebacks and steady play from Phil Greene IV to pull off wins against some of the weaker teams on their schedule. San Francisco is no Bucknell, but they're also not the undersized and under talented Longwood.
Returning to Carnesecca Arena for a pair of games, the Red Storm face a San Francisco team with the ability to score... and a propensity to be scored on.
The Johnnies look for revenge against the Dons, who miss the most important components of their 81-65 win last December. And the team looks to take the lessons learned and confidence gained the past two weekends and begin to come together into a fast-breaking thrill ride of ball movement and irresistible athleticism.
Scouting St. John's
It's been days since the at-times inspiring performance from St. John's at home against #2 ranked Syracuse. The Johnnies fell, and the flaws were apparent - poor outside shooting, late game execution, et cetera.
Some thought it was a promising performance; some thought, to paraphrase Denny Greene, the Johnnies let Syracuse off the hook.
The Red Storm's defense was effective, and possibly stronger than ever; the perimeter defense stuck with Trevor Cooney and Tyler Ennis, rendering them ineffective for stretches, instead of funneling drivers to Chris Obekpa to swat their shots. That's progress, and St. John's needs to continue that tonight against a team with talented athletes and inside-out forwards.
On offense, St. John's continues to search for a solution to scoring droughts early and viable long-range shooting in particular. Max Hooper sees minutes, but has not gotten the long stretches to see how he can reshape defenses with his shooting. The lack of time may be due to his defense; he can't bring the defensive pressure of Sir`Dominic Pointer or Rysheed Jordan, for example.
But on the promising side, phenom Rysheed Jordan is looking steadier on the floor, playing like a scoring-minded floor general. D`Angelo Harrison had an off game, but had some nice moments drawing fouls against Syracuse. And the Johnnies ran plays to get JaKarr Sampson quick looks.
Scouting the Dons
San Francisco's win last year featured 39 points from De`End Parker and Cody Doolin, both of whom have left Rex Walters' San Francisco team. Those two leading scorers paced the Dons, with Doolin slashing into the lane and handing out 14 assists and Parker drawing fouls and hitting timely shots from distance.
This year's San Francisco team can still put up points.
Since Doolin's departure, the Dons have played Division II Sonoma State (remember them from last year's exhibition game?), Oregon (where they scored well but lost), a cupcake (undersized Nicholls State, a blowout win) and comparably talented squads in Montana (W), Vermont (W), and Illinois State (L).
The offense has been able to score at least 1 point per possession in each game. It's the defense that's let them down.
Teams enjoy 54% shooting inside the arc and 41% shooting outside of the arc; teams have felt free to jack up threes on the Dons with impunity. The Dons, gifted with a pair of effective 6'7" rebounders in Cole Dickerson (the team's senior star) and JUCO transfer Kruize Pinkins, rebound both ends very well. (Mark Tollefsen is a forward who can score, but is slight on the glass).
Expect battles on the boards, many threes from USF's inside-out threats, and heavy minutes for Penn State transfer wing Matt Glover.
Of note: San Francisco shoots 57% inside the arc and 36% outside the three-point arc. Defense will be needed.
St. John's couldn't come out flat for this game, could they? The game could still have some tense moments if the Red Storm get three-happy (unless those shots fall). 78-70, St. John's.
(Unless the threes fall. Then I'd go with 91-60.)