In the first game of the Holiday Festival without Justin Burrell a surprise comes along - Rob Thomas gets the start! And he contributed until his thigh injury/ cramp - 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 blocks - though against a team that gets their shots blocked more than any team in the country.
The strength for this team was inside with agile moves by Thomas and Evans. Of course, a few fouls by Coker revealed just how thin the team was - Phil Wait needs work, Tomas Jasiulionis was dealing out more body checks than is allowed, Ty Edmondson still needs development.
Last year's Holiday Festival featured the same Virginia Tech/ St. John's match up. The Hokies beat the Red Storm in a 54-48 slog that featured 20 turnovers for each team and some cold shooting. Virginia Tech shot 36.7 percent, and St. John's shot a frigid 28.3.
That effort included a 1-7 by Larry Wright (with 4 made free throws), a 2-10 by Geno Lawrence (with 5 made free throws, 4 turnovers and 4 steals), a 12 point 4-12 shooting performance from Mason, and 1-3, 6 turnover performance by DJ Kennedy. Jasiulionis played 22 minutes and scored 6 points, and Burrell had 6 points and 6 rebounds with 3 blocks. The offensive rebounding and free throw shooting helped the Hokies win the game.
Tomorrow, the 7-4 Virginia Tech Hokies play the 9-1 St. John's Red Storm. 9-1 of course sounds nice, but the Red Storm has feasted on low-major opponents... and lost the game against the one power conference opponent they played in Boston College. That said, 9-1 means the team has taken care of business and won most of those games by convincing margins.
The Hokies - the second of the Big East-to-ACC defectors that St. John's will face this year - have lost to Xavier, Seton Hall, Wisconsin, and Georgia by a total of 8 points. Tech has also struggled with the likes of Elon and had some trouble pulling away from Columbia in their opening Holiday matchup; Coach Greenberg - he of many basketball books and of the why didn't you sign one of the Curry boys" question - spoke of their uninspired play after the game.
(stats as of Friday's games)
The rotation that St. John's will put on the court tomorrow is entirely different, with Evans (10 minutes last year), Horne (9 minutes last year), Boothe (8 minutes), Coker (7 minutes), and Rob Thomas (7 minutes) logging much of the 200 available minutes. Thomas, starting in place of Justin Burrell, put on a performance, going 5-8 from the field for 11 points, with 5 offensive rebounds and 3 blocks. That physical performance could be the difference in tomorrow's game.
No matter what, the game will be sloppy. St. John's has to be the physical aggressors, looking for early offense, slashing to the basket, rebounding their misses and getting to the free throw line.
On defense, they will have to make forwards AD Vassallo and Jeff Allen take tough jump shots, deflect passes to the interior, and contain Delaney (without sending him to the charity stripe). I expect to see Kennedy shadowing Vassallo. Dele Coker, if he can stay out of foul trouble, could make a mark in this game against Tech's imposing and active front line.
PG 3 Malik Boothe SO 9.3 ppg/ 5.2 apg/ 3.9 rpg/ 1.2 spg
G/F 1 DJ Kennedy SO 14.3 ppg/ 6.9 rpg/ 1.2 spg/ 37% 3pt
G 23 Paris Horne SO 12.5 ppg/ 3.9 rpg/ 2.5 apg/ 37% 3pt
PF 5 Sean Evans SO 9.4 ppg/ 5.4 rpg/ 1 spg/ 54% fg/ 50% FT
F 55 Rob Thomas SO 2.4 ppg/ 1.4 rpg/ 53.8% fg
AD Vassallo violated team rules and didn't start the last game, he will probably start Sunday's contest. Point guard Malcolm Delaney is crafty and QUICK, even though he doesn't shoot particularly well. He draws fouls and converts at the line.
Jeff Allen, meanwhile, bangs down low, blocks shots, and rebounds on both ends. One could say he is undersized, but compared to St. John's lineup, he's about the size of Sean Evans.
The team is missing backup point guard Hank Thorns, but all the players are adequate enough passers to make plays. JT Thompson is coming back from injury and played in his first contest of the year against Columbia. Freshman Victor Davila, from Puerto Rico like Vassallo, has been an efficient scorer and offensive rebounder. Diakate is a phenomenal shot-blocker.
Virginia Tech will run their sets and try to get Vassallo looks at the basket. He's not shy about shooting. As a whole, the team has a high percent of assisted baskets (nearly 64%) and locates defensive players out of position for foul shot opportunities. On defense, they defend the paint very well and of course, block a lot of shots. The Red Storm players have to keep aggressively looking to put up opportunities and not get their feelings hurt by all the rejection.
23 PG Malcolm Delaney SO 6'3" 170lbs - 15.4 ppg/ 3.9 apg/ 3.8 rpg/ 1.3 spg/ 8.1 FTatt per game
5 SG Dorenzo Hudson SO 6'5" 220lbs - 3.3 ppg/ 1.7 TOg/ 28%FG
40 F AD Vassallo SR 6'6" 216 lbs - 19.1 ppg/ 3.5 apg/ 6.9 rpg/ 1 bpg/ 40% 3PT/ 14.9 FGatt per game
0 F Jeff Allen SO 6'7" 240lb - 14.7 ppg/ 9.7 rpg/ 1.7 bpg/ 2.2 apg/ 51.5 FG%
34 C Cheick Diakite SR 6'9" 217lbs - 3.6 ppg/ 3.6 rpg/ 1.6 bpg/ 16.8 mpg
Five Points, or, Keys to the Game
Bring What You Learned Against BC. One hopes that the Boston College Game was a learning experience in defending teams that pass well and utilize their inside player options heavily. If Horne and/ or Kennedy can maintain their scoring touch against Virginia Tech as well, this game will be a toss-up. And on defense, the interior players have to anticipate better and get their feet moving to the right spots to make a difference while not fouling out.
Second Shots. This is of utmost importance. Crash that glass. Crash that glass. It's going to be ugly, chippy, and a lot of wrestling. But each forward has to establish their position and get more opportunities on themselves and teammates.
Bang Back. Sean Evans needs to bring his physical nature to this game. He has been a stalwart in the paint, much better than he was last year; he has to bring that confidence and chaotic playmaking ability to both sides of the floor. When Jeff Allen and Vassallo bang on them inside, Sean and crew have to bang back, and get some fouls on those tough interior players.
Phone Boothe. Not to pick on one player, but I hope to see more Malik vs. the Hokies than we did against Marist. He was decent, running the pace and handling the ball, but the offense at times looked like each player was working on creating their own shot. Boothe as the facilitator means more smooth, smart plays, a better pace, and speed. And hopefully an advantage in turnover disparity.
Arc. Seriously, they need to hit a jump shot. The Red Storm will not be able to get to the basket on crazy drives as, say, DJ Kennedy did at times against Marist. And this game is going to be poor if some more of those jump shots do not go in. The Storm have to choose their shots, though, not just shoot jumpers because the shot is available.