Tonight, St. John's (9-7, 1-3 Big East) has a chance to wipe the stink of the 67-51 matinee pounding Georgetown delivered to the Red Storm on Saturday, a game that made the young Johnnies look incapable of finding answers on offense and laggards on defense.
The offense was poor, but it's on the defensive end that Lavin wants the improvement - to power a "downhill" offensive attack.
"When we play well, we create points off of stops and shutouts and we get out in the open court," he said yesterday. St. John's will have a tough time getting run outs against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who can be offensively deadly with their spacing, passing, and skill.
| Tip Off: 7:00 AM Eastern
Vs. #20 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
(14-2, 2-1 Big East; coach, Mike Brey)
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
TV: ESPN2 | Radio: Bloomberg 1130
Announcers: Mike Patrick, Bob Knight
The Fighting Irish lost at home to the Connecticut Huskies, breaking a 12 game winning streak. Notre Dame struggled to find an offensive rhythm, laboring to hit shots and to activate their slashing guards.
They want to bounce back, but know they don't face an easy mark tonight. "We're going to a place where we got beat last year," head coach Mike Brey said.
The top-25 Irish know that it's worse than that.
Brey's teams have lost four straight in New York against St. John's. The Irish haven't won in the Garden against the Red Storm since 2004, and hope to bounce back against the struggling Red Storm. St. John's hopes to break a two-game skid.
Which desperate, "cornered" team (to use Brey's term) will prevail in the last game of the Red Storm's 3-game homestand?
Scouting Notre Dame
As always, Notre Dame under Mike Brey is a low-turnover, efficient scoring bunch with a strong post presence. In recent years, the team has moved to a slow-down offense, bleeding clock to get the right shot off of ball screens or in the post.
But somehow, the Irish really struggle on the road against St. John's.
"I think the reasons we haven't played well there is [St. John's has] pressured us [on defense]," Brey said after the Connecticut loss. "We've turned the ball over there."
The Irish's offensive game requires smart passing and spot up opportunities in the corners. Last year, St. John's succeeded by keeping Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant out of the lane and making passes in to Jack Cooley difficult. The Johnnies disrupted rhythm and created mistakes - both turnovers (the Irish only had 7 in last year's game) and long, challenged missed three-pointers.
Those turnovers and misses turn into runouts and opportunities for St. John's to show what they do best. "They're really good in transition," said Notre Dame assistant coach Martin Ingelsby, "when they rebound that first miss."
Recently, Chris Obekpa has been very good on the defensive glass, grabbing 20% or more of available defensive rebounds to help St. John's get into transition - even if the opportunities haven't turned into scores for the struggling Storm offense.
Coach Ingelsby indicated that the Irish will be challenging Big East Rookie of the Week Obekpa and the frontline. "I think there'll be some chances for us on the offensive backboard to get some second chance opportunities," he said.
Mike Brey's team has skilled shooters, but have struggled against in-your-jock pressure - the kind of pressure St. John's can bring. But St. John's has labored against set defenses. Turnovers will be the key tonight.
Keys to the Game aka the TV lineup
Law and Order
Irish assistant Ingelsby indicates that the team will look to "build... a wall and make them take challenged jump shots." St. John's has struggled to generate looks off of ball screens and isolation plays; getting into transition against the Irish is key to imposing their will on Notre Dame. Getting shots at the basket for wings Amir Garrett, Sir`Dominic Pointer, and JaKarr Sampson is a goal.
The Obekpa Factor
The Irish are concerned by the Obekpa Factor. In the words of Mike Brey, "they're gonna play that zone, but they have that shot blocker there. We're gonna have to make some shots." Has Obekpa become He Who Shall Go Unnamed For Fear Of Reprisals? Expect to hear announcer Bobby Knight talk about "that big kid" - referring to Obekpa, who blocks 18% of the shots on the court when he plays - and even learn his name by the end of the night.
Prediction: St. John's has a chance to turn their fortunes around with a win against an opponent less physically opposing than Notre Dame. Notre Dame has a lot of offensive pop, but struggle against pressure. St. John's pulls it out, 69-66.