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Game #21: St. John's basketball at Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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Rutgers Scarlet Knights LogoThis Wednesday, in the barely-televised bottom of the Big East rankings, St. John’s (8-12, 2-7 Big East) and Rutgers (10-13, 2-8 Big East) meet in New Jersey, at the Scarlet Knights’ Louis Brown Athletic Center (aka the RAC) at 7.30 ET. The game will be shown on ESPN 360, which is ESPN’s way of saying "we couldn’t give a rat’s behind if anyone sees this game").

Larry Wright shooting vs South FloridaWednesday’s game should be an ugly one, with two fairly young teams battling to stay out of the Big East basement. In their last games, Rutgers was spanked like a naughty upstart child by Terrence Williams and Louisville, and St. John’s handled some road business against Kentrell Gransberry and the South Florida Bulls.

Rutgers had sped up the tempo in their groundbreaking wins against Villanova and Pittsburgh two weeks ago, but were flustered by the Cardinals’ press last Saturday. St. John’s also learned to speed up the pace, with much better results. Burrell dunked and shot his way to 22 points on 9-15 shooting, Malik Boothe cut through the defense for 11 points and 10 assists, and the "free Larry Wright" movement bore some fruit, with him shooting and slashing his way to 17 points, (4-5 2pt, 3-3 3pt) and 4 rebounds.

Coach Norm Roberts had Anthony Mason Jr. on the bench with a shin bruise suffered in the first half, but the team ran and rolled well. Coach Roberts had a decent coaching performance, letting Larry Wright get some run, pressuring Gransberry when he had the ball out of his comfort zone and making Dominique Jones do the scoring. My big quibble with the win is that Jones got to the free throw line 15 times, and South Florida as a team got to the line 29 times (compared to St. John’s 22). DJ Kennedy’s time was reduced, which is essential if St. John’s is going to put multiple scorers on the floor.

Rutgers tends to play a fairly short bench, with Corey Chandler getting much of the bench time. This might be different with the sped-up style. They had a their confidence-building wins, but are likely cheesed about the beating they received from Louisville. They'll want to deliver a beat down to their fellow weak sister/ whipping post of the Big East, the Red Storm, who are similarly rebuilding their program.

The Scarlet Knights' scoring strength is their guard play. When Anthony Farmer has a good game—whether shooting, rebounding, or with assists—the Scarlet Knights have been competitive. They don’t always shoot the three ball well, but have had hot shooting nights. JR Inman, Anthony Farmer, and Mike Coburn can all get to the free throw line, which will be a worry for the Red Storm. Besides N'Daiye, any of the Rutgers' regulars can score 20, and they're not shy about shooting.

On defense, the team doesn’t steal the ball very much, but they hold teams to a low shooting percentage and block shots with the 6 foot 11 Hamady N’Diaye (10th best block rate in the country according to kenpom.com) and Byron Joynes. N’Diaye is also a ferocious rebounder, and St. John’s will need to keep him off of the glass. Inman is a good defensive rebounder. The RAC is a notoriously difficult place to play, and has been for years, even with the mediocre Rutgers teams that the program has fielded.

Starters (Stats for Big East Play)

Hamady N'Diaye blocking shot vs Pittsburgh PanthersF - JR Inman (jr) 6’9" 220 10.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg
G/F - Jaron Griffin (jr) 6’7" 210 33% 3PT, 7.9 ppg
G - Mike Coburn (fr) 6’0" 195 10.9 ppg, 1 stl/g,
G - Anthony Farmer (jr) 6’1" 190 9.7 ppg, 2.6 apg, 41% 3PT
C - Hamady N’Diaye (so) 6’11" 235 2 blk/g, 6.6 rpg, 4.6 ppg

G - Corey Chandler (fr) 6’2" 190 36% 3PT, 10.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, .4 ast/to, 1.1 stl.g – Chandler plays many minutes off the bench. When he's on the court, he’s going to shoot. A lot. He steals the ball well, and gets to the rim. But he also turns the ball over often, and can be singular in his goal to get to the hoop.

Keys to the Game

Can the Kids Come Out to Play? Boothe put up a solid performance, with a double double (though 3 turnovers); Larry Wright proved his fans correct for a night; Kennedy hit all but one of his free throws; and Burrell was as magnificent as we’ve seen him. I know Geno is the leader of this team, but it was good to see Coach Roberts going with the hot hand in Malik Boothe. The 5’9" Boothe even gets up for rebounds. St. John’s can push the tempo with his speed and Kennedy/ Burrell’s rebounding. Evans played an okay game; expect to see a lot of him on the court against the athletic N’Diaye or Inman.

Glass Eating Tricks. Keep N’Diaye and Inman off the glass. St. John’s did a great job on South Florida, winning the rebounding battle (though allowing Ajayi 6 offensive rebounds). If St. John’s can effectively corral all of Rutgers’ misses (and there should be many), the Storm will be able to turn that into early offense. Right now, Coker and Jasiulionis are not giving the team much; Sean Evans has to corral his energy and play a good game.

Free Throw Disparity. The one thing that can really sink the Red Storm in this game are the free throws. If Rutgers gets to the line, they have the chance at easy points and more importantly, they will have a chance to work at St. John’s lack of interior depth. Playing Jasiulionis or Coker introduces an offensive wild card; will they be a complete negative? Will they produce? Granted, the Scarlet Knights are shooting 60% in conference from the free throw line, but putting the other team on the line over and over again is a BAD idea, especially on the road. Any of the Scarlet Knights regulars can go off for 20, and the Storm can't help them out by giving them unguarded shots (easy lay ups also fall into this category).