At 2 wins, 3 losses in the Big East, the St. John's Red Storm have a number of chances before February. Chances to start a streak... or chances to prove that they are maddeningly inconsistent.
The next four games feature two tilts against DePaul, a rematch against Rutgers, and a home game against Seton Hall.
Those are four chances to win or four chances to frustrate.
"The games that we lost we fell down early or we just didn’t come fully prepared to play as a team," Sir`Dominic Pointer said yesterday. "The games we did win; we had all ten playing well."
The Red Storm travel to Phil Greene IV's hometown of Chicago (well, just over the border of the city) to play the DePaul Blue Demons at noon on Saturday, looking to get the whole rotation playing well.
| Tip Off: 12:00 PM Eastern
Vs. DePaul Blue Demons
(10-7, 1-3 Big East; coach, Oliver Purnell)
Allstate Arena, Rosemont, IL
TV: SNY | ESPN3 Radio: Bloomberg 1130
Announcers: Anish Shroff, Bob Wenzel
Oliver Purnell's squad is 10-7, 1-3 in the Big East, and sport a pair of talented juniors and a pesky style. St. John's handled them twice last year, but not without some effort. DePaul requires an effort, some togetherness and an understanding of what the Demons try to do to opponents.
The Blue Demons have improved, but have not been able to make the leap in the non-conference or in the strong Big East.
They have a win against Providence that should have been more comfortable; the Demons almost made a comeback against the Cincinnati Bearcats this week. The Demons knocked off Arizona State, but lost to Gardner-Webb and local rivals Loyola.
The Demons may not be able to get over the top, they may be flawed... but they are dangerous.
Scouting the matchup
Watching Big East basketball, there is a tendency to assume that because Team A beats Team B, and Team B beats Team C, that Team A will beat Team C - and it ain't necessarily so.
Notre Dame, for example, has struggled with quick guards and shot-creators recently; they fare batter against traditional offenses, against teams that don't push in transition (and against poor opponents. Did you see their non-conference schedule?).
DePaul , on the other hand, loves to play in transition.
The Blue Demons want to press and trap up the floor and get out and run. Last year, D`Angelo Harrison had to call a time out just to catch his breath in the wild game in Chicago - their pace will get to a team. Their pace (76.7 possessions in Big East play, the highest in-conference pace in the nation) will make a team take uncharacteristic shots, lulling opponents into an unstructured YMCA quality run.
And with that pace, guard Brandon Young (12 shots/ game) and Cleveland Melvin (14 shots/ game) will get shots at or near the bucket. Most of the Demons' makes are off of the dribble; their penetration in transition and in the half court has to be slowed.
St. John's also loves to play in transition.
The game plays to some of the Johnnies' strengths - speed and athleticism. Players like Amir Garrett and Sir`Dominic Pointer will get into space to throw down some nasty jams. But pace plays to some of the Johnnies' worst tendencies - quick shots early in the shot clock, over aggressiveness, losing long rebounds, wild passes from Jamal Branch.
Generally, DePaul has been a storm of imperfection - fouling a lot while not getting to the line, not rebounding either end, and dependent on the turnover. St. John's needs to take advantage of those imperfections and outscore the Demons.
If they can take advantage - if JaKarr can avoid hurrying his shots in the melee that is a DePaul game, if D`Angelo Harrison and others can draw fouls instead of shooting jumpers, if the team can win long rebounds from the likes of 5'11 guard Worrell Clahar, the second-best per-possession defensive rebounder on DePaul - it will be a sign of growth and maturity for Steve Lavin's club.
DePaul's struggles, as always, come from the delicate balance between exciting pace and the fundamentals of defensive basketball - getting back on defense and clearing opponents' misses. Generally, DePaul has been a storm of imperfection - fouling a lot while not getting to the line, not rebounding either end, and dependent on the turnover. The Blue Demons need to be made to pay for their mistakes.
A win is not a given against a hungry and fast-paced DePaul squad; St. John's has to exercise a little more control than they did last season to win the way they should on the road.
The Red Storm haven't seen many forwards as fast-moving and active as Cleveland Melvin this season. He's averaging 17.7 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per contest. The Blue Demons can be explosive, especially when they can supplement their transition game with steals and three-pointers from the corners of the arc.
Keys to the Game aka the Chicago Way
Monsters of the Speedway
The city of big shoulders
Now that Christian Jones is back in the lineup following a pair of personal tragedies recounted by the NY Post and NY Daily News, he adds to Chris Obekpa's recent surge to create a frontcourt designed to take advantage of DePaul. They can run with Melvin and Donnavan Kirk, they can finish in transition, and they can get rebounds on the glass. Their quickness and awareness will need to be top-notch, but both can make plays.
The Chicago school of ball pressure/ protection
Bumper to bumper traffic
Chris Obekpa has been a consistent defensive factor inside; he'll need to maintain his defense while the perimeter players work to contain the shooting of Jamee Crockett and Moses Morgan, a pair of players who can get hot from outside.
Prediction: St. John's may not be favored in tomorrow's game. They may be. But with Jamal Branch in the fold along with Phil Greene, there should be more than enough ballhandling and playmaking to win the game. The question is - are the Johnnies crisp and cohesive enough to win the winnable? Prediction, St. John's 73-65.