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Game #4, LIU Blackbirds at St. John's

Tonight, the St. John’s Red Storm faces the Long Island University Blackbirds, 7.30 ET at Carnesecca Arena. For some reason Long Island University is in Brooklyn, a borough whose residents never think of themselves as "Long Islanders." I know I didn’t when I lived there.

I should have some affection for this Blackbirds team. They’re Brooklyn, play a mile from the old Brooklyn home, they’re across the street from Junior’s.

Let me stop selling them short though. Unlike Fairleigh Dickinson (aka Fairleigh Ridiculous), Jim Ferry's team has won some games—albeit against Army (who can’t score against their early-season competition), Canisius (who really can’t score against the early competition), and Columbia (the Ivy league hasn’t been semi-capable in a few years). LIU has also lost to Notre Dame.

Actually, the Blackbirds got tore up by Notre Dame, 82-50. As an aside, LIU has a rich basketball history back in the 40’s and 50’s, when they were coached by Hall of Famer Clair Bee with stars like William King. Plus, the team includes transfer Ron Manigault, cousin of NYC streetball/ hoops legend Earl "The Goat" Manigault, famed for grabbing quarters off the tops of backboards, a feat that's up there with Dwight Howard's sticker dunk (photo) for pure unadulterated illness.

LIU is regarded as perhaps the best of the Northeast Conference competition. LIU’s two leading scorers, senior Kellen Allen (14.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and freshman Kyle Johnson (14.2 ppg, 6 rpg, 45% 3-pt) come off the bench. From the news recaps, it seems that LIU has some good scoring runs in them, and they are regarded as a pretty good squad.

Ken Pomeroy’s rankings have the Blackbirds a bit higher in terms of offensive efficiency (259) and defensive efficiency (98) than the other NEC squads that St. John’s has played; but St. John’s is also capable offensively (32) and defensively (22). Note that the numbers are all raw and St. John’s isn’t actually that good. But they have been solid.

So, tonight’s the night, like Redman said—Anthony Mason Jr. returns from his high ankle sprain to get some playing time before facing "the U" aka the University of Miami this Sunday. Rumor has it that center Tomas Jasiulionis will be held out of this contest after aggravating his tendonitis; this isn’t official word so we don’t know if Coach Roberts will start DJ Kennedy, Dele Coker, or maybe even Paris Horne (I would consider getting his defensive presence in the game).

Keys to tonight’s game:

- Don’t overlook the competition. I know the team is probably feeling all good about itself but I am sure Norm Roberts is reminding them that they had to grit out an opening game win against St. Francis, and FDU was up on them at halftime. The Red Storm needs to come out with the defensive intensity—success for this team starts with the defense, and they need to build good habits before the Sunday game in Miami.

- Mason, Mason, Mason. Fans have been anticipating his return for a long time and wondering about chemistry and whose minutes get cut. But damn, a little depth is good to have; and will prove very good when the team faces better competition. For his part, Mason has to play that complementary role at times and know when to look for his offense. At times last year, he took shots like a superstar at his coming out party, but he’s not going to be a superstar that way; his mid-range and outside jumpers aren’t so great that he can continue to jack up shots when there are capable and creative options in Wright, Burrell, and perhaps Kennedy. Mason has to rebound, drive, drive-and-kick. And perhaps he will be more effective with fewer shots.

- Rebounding. If Jasiulionis is out, this is an opportunity for Burrell, Coker, Mason, and Kennedy to really get after the ball on defense and on the boards. Cleaning the windows means this team can run; and with the athletes out there, this team should look for all of the easy fast break shots and putbacks it can.

- Keep up the Pace. This team needs to get Malik Boothe more time to make plays and make this team run. Eugene Lawrence needs to keep his excellent play going, and Larry Wright needs to further establish himself as a threat—no nights off for anyone on this squad.