Time to learn more about this Red Storm team. Tonight in Hawai’i—or for them, this afternoon—they take on the Ohio Bobcats of… somewhere in Ohio.
Ken Pomeroy’s stats page predicts a one-point win for the Bobcats; Vegas has St. John’s installed as 4 point underdogs. Leaving alone what that says about the program (though Ohio is a good mid-major squad), there may be opportunities for St. John’s to win this game. Maybe.
The Bobcats are a senior-laden team with a strong inside game, led by efficient scorers (taken from the Scouting Report numbers and the team’s stats:
• PF Jerome Tillman 6’6", 240. 14 ppg, 7.6 rpg; he is an excellent defensive rebounder and is willing to take a shot from behind the arc,
• C Leon Williams 6’8", 255. 15.9 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 4.7 offensive rebounds/ game, making him one of the best offensive rebounders in the country, 51-68 from the free-throw line (75%). He scores, rebounds, and gets to the line at a great clip.
• SG Bubba Walther (6’4", 170). Walther is more of a 3-point specialist, having taken 61 shots (with 23 makes, he’s got a 38% success rate). He is opportunistic on defense, with nearly 2 steals per game.
• F Justin Orr 6’6", 205, a junior transfer who scores from inside (24-40, 60%), outside (12-19, 63%), and less reliably, from the free throw line (12-19, a pedestrian 63% for an unguarded, stand-still shot).
• PG Michael Allen 6’0", 180 has a 2.1/1 assist-to-turnover ratio, 6 ppg, and shoots free throws infrequently (17 attempts) and badly (53%). He has only taken 10 3-point attempts this season, connecting on 50% of his tries.
• G Bert Whittington 6’0", 170 comes in off the bench and likes to shoot when he’s on the court
They play a slow-down game to cater to their bigs, and their offense is extremely efficient.
St. John’s, even with Anthony Mason Jr. on the bench, will start their regular starting five. The Red Storm will need to move the ball around effectively and disrupt the Bobcats defense. Justin Burrell might find some opportunities to shine; Ohio has big men with size and are likely to play Burrell straight up. The starters:
• PF Justin Burrell 6’8", 235 should have moments to show his offensive talent. He has to fight for his rebounds against the Bobcats; they clean the glass.
• SG Larry Wright 6’2", 172 needs to look for his shot more, and that will be the mantra every game. His outside stroke is sweet (47%) and his inside shooting is sweeter (54%) when he drives and pulls up for the jumper. And if the shot’s not falling, play quick-handed defense.
• PG Eugene "Geno" Lawrence 6’1", 210. The senior point guard needs to bull his way inside for free-throw opportunities and better shots. He’s not the best finisher, but he is tough, and can draw some contact.
• SF DJ Kennedy 6’6", 208 is aggressive, and like many freshman ballers, finds that aggression gets him into trouble. He turns the ball over because he’s trying to drive too far, not looking for his teammates. Kennedy must play a more efficient court game—taking his shots when he’s open, not trying top do too much, making tough drives inside and getting the hustle rebounds.
• C Tomas Jasiulionis 6’11", 249 needs to think tall. Keep the hands up and keep altering shots. Try not to foul too much. Take the open shot. Secure the rebound—so many balls are tipped by the big Lithuanian, and yet don’t end up in his hands.
The bench rotation will likely start with C Dele Coker, not because he is the best bench player, but because Jasiulionis’ knee tendonitis won’t allow him to play extended minutes. Tomas is better than Coker, who has shown his inexperience especially on the defensive end, where he has allowed strong opponents to get deep post position, and quick opponents to expose a lack of foot speed/ anticipation in the freshman forward.
F Anthony Mason Jr. will get extended minutes out of necessity; expect him to hoist a few outside jumpers and then remember that he is at his best driving to the hoop.
PG Malik Boothe will take the point guard spot for stretches; he’s been an underwhelming player, not displaying the penetration and defensive quickness that were his advertised hallmarks.
F Rob Thomas, a heralded recruit a year and a half ago, will finally play his first NCAA basketball game after being a partial qualifier and needing a redshirt year to get his academics in order. He tore his ACL this spring, and has made a speedy recovery. Look for him to play the 3 and 4 spots, and perhaps even some center in case of foul trouble. He’s supposed to be strong, with a sharp mid-range game.
G Paris Horne made 4-8 three pointers last week. Let’s hope he doesn’t make a habit of it, concentrating on his slashing ability and, just possibly, using his ability to pull down some rebounds. He and Lawrence have to pressure the dribble and the passes of Ohio; the sloppier and more turnover filled the game is, the better chance St. John’s will have of winning.
Keys to the Game:
Play Strong. The St. John’s big men have to find a way to not foul Leon Williams. Or if they do, make it count. No ticky-tack, didn’t-move-the-feet fouls, St. John’s needs stop-him-from-scoring fouls. Good position and even a guard double team (whoever is defending point guard Michael Allen, the least effective shooter on the Bobcats) would help.
Turn, turn, turn. Hawai’i is a chance to get away from the doubt and frustration from the past two losses. And two new players, Rob Thomas and Anthony Mason Jr, have the chance to change the fortunes of this team, and take minutes from F Sean Evans, who isn’t ready to play at this level yet, and from Burrell and Kennedy, who need fewer minutes on the court.
Turn, turn, turn(over). St. John’s must find a way to get the Bobcats to turn the ball over. They have to get some easy baskets; the Red Storm can’t rely on Burrell’s turnarounds, Mason’s three-pointers, or Eugene Lawrence’s end-of-shot-clock heaves.
I don’t think St. John’s will pull this game out… but I’ll be listening closely to the radio. Since no visual media outlet except for the local Hawai’i television station found this Outrigger Hotel Rainbow Classic tourney worth covering!
The other opponents:
St. Mary’s College Gaels
Tulane Green Wave
East Tennessee State Buccaneers
Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns
Carry Me, Ohio (yes, that’s a cheap reason to add the Sun Kil Moon song and video to the site)