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Game #22: St. John's basketball vs Providence Friars

St. John’s Red Storm (9-12, 3-7 in Big East conference) takes on the Providence College Friars (13-9, 4-6 in Big East conference) in Queens at Carnesecca Arena at 12:00 pm Saturday.

One thing I have always admired about Tim Welsh’s Providence Friars is how he manages to recruit players who are on no one’s radar, and by junior year they develop into Ryan Gomes, Herbert Hill, and now Geoff McDermott. Much like Boston College's Al Skinner, the man knows his ‘tweeners and unheralded ballers and gets them to play, pass, and rebound in unselfish ways that more heralded players can’t quite wrap their heads around.

Tim Welsh + Dwain McMillan after a lossBut Providence College has had 10 years with Coach Welsh, and the fans are even more dissatisfied with his work than St. John’s fans are with Norm Roberts. Tim Welsh a lame duck coach at a school that spits out coaches (who have gone on to excellent careers like Pitino and Rick Barnes). He receives boos from the home fans, and is even dissed on the last line of his own Wikipedia site. All in a small school in a small state with no big basketball market nearby.

Meanwhile, the University of Rhode Island is a bigger basketball story and has a much better chance of reaching the NCAA Tournament, a detail that probably doesn’t escape the discontented fans. It’s hard out there for a Friar.

The Friars are looking to start a streak, just as St. John’s has, by beating up the second division of the Big East conference. The Friars are okay defensively; Geoff McDermott plays well against opposing forwards and Jeff Xavier steals the ball. If Bucky Waters is announcing, expect him to say something about Xavier "stealing your hubcaps" or "your lunch" or "your meal card." Teams have shot well against the Friars in victories and losses, which gives hopes for the poor-shooting Red Storm, especially if Anthony Mason Jr. is well enough to play. The Friars shoot the three well, though Manhattan College transfer Jeff Xavier could do to shoot less from the outside in conference play, and Dwain Williams could do to shoot more.

The Red Storm is coming off of an ugly win against Rutgers where they bothered the Scarlet Knight offense, go to the free throw line readily, and scored on fast breaks when they needed to. This game will be much tougher, but winnable if the Red Storm improves its play.

Starters (stats for Big East play)

Providence Friars logoF Geoff McDermott 6’8" 235 (jr): 9.3 ppg, 5-12 3PT, 5.1 apg, 3.3 to/g, 3.1 fouls/g
G Jeff Xavier 6’1" 185 (jr): 11.4 ppg, 3.3 apg, 4.2 rpg, 3 stl/g, 28% 3PT
G Brian McKenzie 6’4" 205 (so): 11.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 33% 3PT
F Randall Hanke 6’11" 240 (jr): 8.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 14.6 min/g
PG Dwain Williams 6’0" 170 (so): 16.3 ppg, 50% 3PT (28-56), 2 apg

F Jonathan Kale 6’8" 245 (jr): 6.1 ppg, 3 rpg
G Weyinmi Efejuku 6’5" 210 (jr): 8.1 ppg, 30% 3PT

Keys to the Game:

Interiors. Though the danger to the Red Storm is going to be Providence’s prolific three-point shooting, the game is going to be won on the inside. Will Justin Burrell be able to get his points against McDermott and the Providence front line? Will their strength, experience, and height force him to take outside jumpers? Burrell is best when moving toward the basket, whether on a fast break or looking for an offensive rebound opportunity as a teammate is driving. He is also solid on the 18-footers when he has a little space. But if he’s shooting turnaround jumpers, he won’t be as effective and he won’t get to the free throw line. Burrell, Evans, and Jasiulionis will also be tested on defense. The Frairs are likely to look to the 6’11" Randall Hanke for their early points as they did against DePaul.

Interiors II. Beyond that, the team must rebound well and keep the other team off the glass on both ends. Sean Evans will likely get a lot of playing time, and he must bring in some more errant balls. The Friars don’t draw many fouls, but St. John’s loves to foul; the players must keep their exuberance in check—fight for the ball, but no stupid fouls.

Keep the Ball and the Feet Moving. Whether Mason Jr. is playing or not, the 5 assist performance by the team is not something we want to see. The team can’t stand still and watch Mason shoot; and for his part, Anthony has to drive into the defense. Good passing—and less dribbling—with negate the effect of Xavier and McDermott’s fast hands. On defense, McDermott is an excellent passer, helping to make the Friar scoring a balanced (though at times inconsistent) affair, and he will make plays on and around the inexperienced freshman Evans and the jumpy Jasiulionis. Evans has to keep his feet moving, stay with his man and not defend with the hands… unless he’s blocking a shot.

edit: Official release from St. John's University lists Anthony Mason Jr. as doubtful for Saturday's game. This had better not turn into, well, the beginning of this year, where Mason was originally out for the opener, and missed 5 games, and was badly hobbled in 2 others.