Off of a 1-2 trip to Charleston against a trio of competitive teams, St. John's (2-2) returns home to Queens for the friendly confines of Carnesecca and a welcoming home crowd. Except for a trip to San Francisco, the Red Storm will stay in New York City until conference play starts. There is a month and two weeks to work out the kinks.
"The next six weeks as we get ready for Big East play, how much we improve on the defensive end of the floor will be critical if we’re going to have some degree of success," Lavin told reporters in the pregame press conference yesterday.
The Johnnies hope to put another win in the left hand column against the Patriot League's Holy Cross Crusaders (3-1). The game should also be a chance to see a solid improvement in the defensive effort... or realize that the young team will need another month of games to make their rotations in the zone more effective.
Scouting Holy Cross
Holy Cross is 3-1 on the season, with a solid win over Old Dominion and wins over Maine and Morgan State. The Crusaders' win total looks promising, but the methods have been, well, unattractive.
Against Morgan State, the Crusaders shot 44% and rebounded the offensive glass well, scoring 1.1 points per possession. In the other games, the Crusaders shot 30%, 34%, and 29% from the field. In terms of points per possession, that's .77 points per possession, .87 ppp, and .78 ppp.
With 1 point/ possession considered a competent offensive performance, it's clear that Holy Cross has real problems scoring despite playing a solid shooter in Jordan Stevens on the wing and having a pair of 6'9" starters.
That also means that Coach Milan Brown's squad is playing very good defense for him. The Crusaders have held teams to 21% shooting outside the arc, and have suppressed scoring enough to win games despite their offense.
Cast of characters
The big character tonight is the defense. Coach Steve Lavin is obviously not happy with D`Angelo Harrison and Phil Greene trading shots with opponents while unable to close out games defensively. But defense is a team activity - dependent on perimeter recognition along with individual efforts by Sir`Dominic Pointer and Amir Garrett.
We'll be looking closely at the defense in the coming weeks, but St. John's hopes to finally get an easy win over their lowest-rated opponent of the season.
As far as players, here is what you will need to know.
The Crusaders are led by a Justin Burrell (pictured, left). The 5'9" sophomore from Virginia is a full foot shorter than St. John's stalwart forward, Justin Burrell. It's unknown if this Justin talks as much smack on the court, but he can get shots up with his quickness in the lane. Listed as a "true point guard," Burrell started all of Holy Cross' games last season. He can slice into a defense, and St. John's ability to keep him on the perimeter will be a bellwether for the game. Burrell is shooting 23.5% from outside of the arc this season.
The Crusaders' players get their shots blocked more than 339 other teams in the country. JaKarr Sampson/ Chris Obekpa should pad their shot blocking totals tonight. Both have been good on the floor for St. John's, but this game will also be a chance for them to work on their defense and position rebounding - and get some fun dunks in transition against the less-athletic Crusaders.
Forwards Dave Dudzinski and Phil Beans (pictured, left) have some range on their shots, though neither is particularly agile deep in the paint. Beans is a 6'9" forward who prefers to shoot from outside of the arc; he has a very quick release. 6'9" Dudzinski is Holy Cross' best rebounder. The two will be a solid test for St. John's forwards, who need to improve their boxing out technique.
This contest is a great chance to give some minutes to Marc-Antoine Bourgault and Felix Balamou on the bench. Both players have potential to add to the rotation. St. John's has to find Bourgault some shots; in two games and 14 minutes, the three-point shooter took one shot from the field. Balamou is 3/3 from the field, perfect in 14 minutes over 3 games.
Prediction: St. John's should handle this game easily. Holy Cross isn't as experienced as teams like Detroit, and have been woeful on offense. St. John's wins, 77-63.