One step closer to Madison Square Garden in the preseason NIT.
In the state of Massachusetts, up in Chestnut Hill, just outside of Boston and next to the town of Brookline, home and birthplace of Michael Dukakis, birthplace of John F. Kennedy, and of U Conn's Jeff Adrien, former home and HS of Theo Epstein*, the St. John's men's team has a quick turnaround to play in the regional finals of the Preseason NIT.
A rousing and, dare I say... efficient (?!) offensive outburst over the Cornell Big Red helped the Red Storminto an actual televised matchup with the host Boston College Eagles, one of three former Big East-turned-Atlantic Coast Conference foes the Red Storm will play this year.
The winner of tonight's matchup gets to face the other regional winners in a game that casual basketball viewers might even watch.
What a way that would be to put St. John's back into the spotlight again - the bright lights of their own damn house, Madison Square Garden. Great, well-known opponents. A large crowd. A captive audience. A tournament with a big name.
And Florida Atlantic lost to Arizona, so no St. John's/ Mike Jarvis matchup in the Garden, which would have been something to watch.
The BC Eagles are led by their high usage guard Tyrese Rice, a man who can score and dish with the best of them. He's one of the best players in the Atlantic Coast Conference and one of the best senior guards in college, to be sure.
But Rice receives lesser publicity since he plays for Boston College, who struggled to a 14-17 record last year on the non-strength of their defense.
On D, Boston College doesn't force turnovers, and don't clean the defensive glass. They have a more offensive focus, with coach Al Skinner famously running the Flex Offense. The forwards are often moving, and vs. Loyola of Maryland, they forwards got open for some easy shots - the Greyhound defenders didn't switch and got caught a step behind or in mismatches.
The Eagles are a young squad. They have a number of sophomore scorers, as St. John's does. Instead of the names Kennedy and Burrell, they have Rakim Sanders, Biko Paris, and Corey Raji. Not to mention a freshman guard named Reggie Jackson.
Thankfully, it's November, so it's not Reggie Jackson's time. That was last month.
Last year's team had two saving graces on defense - a low frequency of sending opponents to the line (while enjoying a good many trips themselves) and blocked shots. So far, the Eagles defense has not been a block parade, but that isn't to say shot-blocker Josh Southern doesn't have a few swats in his 6'10" body for tomorrow night's tilt up on "the Heights".
And for those of you who care, Boston College is favored by 7.5 points.
* Chestnut Hill, apparently, is not an actual municipal entity. Who knew.
Tyrese Rice- the Eagles' consistent offensive weapon- was suspended for one game for a violation of team rules, and yesterday's tilt was his first game action of the year. Joe Trapani is a transfer from the University of Vermont.
The other starters are sophomores who have a good amount of playing experience last year. one player missing from this list is guard Biko Paris, who will get minutes along with freshmen Dallas Elmore and the aforementioned Reggie Jackson.
In the rout of Loyola (MD), Boston College's main guys got to rest a little - Trapani played 26 minutes, Rice played 26 minutes, Josh Southern played 22 against the small Greyhound team. Tyrese Rice with rest... is a worrisome prospect. he went off for 46 against North Carolina last year while playing on a team of freshmen and non-scoring threats. A word of hope from Draft Express on their ACC Draft Prospect Profile:
According to Synergy Sports Technology, when he spots up and shoots without putting the ball on the floor, Rice shoots over 50% from the field; when he is forced to shoot coming off of screens or off the dribble, his percentages drop considerably.
Good to know.
4 PG Tyrese Rice 6’1" 190lbs/ Senior/ 16 pts, 6 ast, 75% 3pt
15 G/F Rakim Sanders 6’5" 225lbs/ Sophomore/ 13.5 pts, 6 reb, 2 blk, 0 ast, 53% fg
11 F Corey Raji 6’5" 214lbs/ Sophomore/ 11 pts, 6.5 reb, 2.5 ast, 14 FTA (team high), 57% ft
12 F Joseph Trapani 6’8" 218lbs/ Sophomore/ 16.5 pts, 6.5 reb, 3.5 ast, 44% 3pt
52 C Josh Southern 6’10" 242lbs/ Sophomore/ 7 pts, 6 reb, 0 blk, 18 mins
The team has been smooth and fluid, actually putting up points. Kennedy, so far, has been the breakout performer, putting up serious point totals while matching his stellar rebounding from freshman year.
But Boothe is right there behind him with offensive scoring and great passing. Playmakers who try to score draw defenders, and allow other talents to make plays. The aggression of those two is greatly appreciated.
Sean Evans knows his role and plays it to the hilt. Burrell has had good games and seems more willing to assert himself on offense. Mason has been very good on defense, blocking shots and not overrunning his man as he looks for the steal. His outside shot is not falling like water yet, but expect that to change.
The Red Storm have played a fairly small rotation, with 3 players over 30 minutes and the other 2 starters playing at least 28. Paris Horne sat out the last game after turning an ankle in practice; Tomas Jasiulionis has not yet been seen on the court.
3 PG Malik Boothe 5’9" 180lbs/ Sophomore/ 10 pts, 5.5 reb, 7 ast, 2.5 stl, 39% fg, 17% 3pt
1 G/F DJ Kennedy 6’6" 210lbs/ Sophomore/ 22.5 pts,6.5 reb, 2 stl, 57% fg, 30% 3pt
2 SF Anthony Mason 6’7" 210lbs/ Senior/ 15 pts, 4 reb, 2 ast, 2 blk, 44% fg, 18% 3pt
24 F Justin Burrell 6’8" 240lbs/ Sophomore/ 12.5 pts. 7.5 reb, 2 ast, 53% fg, 69% ft
5 F Sean Evans 6’8" 250lbs/ Sophomore/ 7 pts, 8.5 reb (4 off reb),1.5 stl
Five Points, or, Keys to the Game
Forever Young. How will St. John's hold up playing two games in two nights? St. John's is technically deep, but coach doesn't want to dip into those waters. Mase has to play major minutes, as do Kennedy, Burrell, and Boothe.
Burrell may have tweaked his ankle last night, but came back to play against Cornell. Is he more rested, having played 10 fewer minutes? Can Coker give some minutes? Will Paris Horne play? Can Ty and Quincy, perhaps off their first game jitters - and Phil Wait after his first game action - give a little scoring punch off the bench?
Will the players legs allow them to keep scrapping, rebounding, and slashing to the basket with the same energy all game long? Or will they fall short, tired late?
More Toasty Starts. Nothing's better than hitting an offensively focused team with some good stifling defense, forcing some turnovers, and scoring a bit early. St. John's has gotten in some practice in holding a lead. Hopefully, the confidence in their games will help the players' 25% shooting; a good outside shooting burst could propel this team back to Madison Square Garden for the semis and the finals of the Preseason NIT.
Keep the Glass Clean on both Ends. From what I saw of Boston College tonight... they really could do a better job keeping anyone off the glass. With actual size, unlike Loyola, St. John's should be able to take some advantage of this. Evans, Burrell, and Coker need to be aggressive; this is a game where Coker may be a factor.
Make Them Shoot, Not Dunk. Last year's squad - especially Tyrese Rice and Rakim Sanders - could shoot the long ball. But in the first two games, they have enjoyed a number of trips to the line - 34 times vs Loyola (on 57 official field goal attempts), a 51% ratio of FT attempts to FG attempts. They also got to the basket for easy shots.
St. John's needs to make them work - cut off lanes in transition, cut off lanes in the half court. This will require some discipline from the bigs; BC did a lot of screening around the post positions to free up forwards like Trapani. They do have range; but don't give them easy shots. And don't send them to the line.
Long-Lasting Protection. The Red Storm need to develop some guard depth, for sure; but the turnovers and poor ball handling have come from the stars, Burrell and Mason. Especially in late-game situations, they have to hold on to the ball and at the very least, make plays going to the basket.
So far, the team has drastically reduced their turnover prone nature, and have also enjoyed offensive flow. That's probably not a coincidence. The offense will have to be reliable against the offensive minded Eagles - a late drought could sink the Johnnies. So could an early drought, of course.