Virginia Tech box score (loss, 81-67)
"...it only takes a five or six minute span to change the game. We didn't execute a few times. They were able to open a three-point game and get a cushion. We didn't have enough stops to respond. Those are things we will learn from and get better."
- Norm Roberts after the 81-67 loss to Virginia Tech
"Obviously that was a butt-whooping. Those guys gave it to us. They were tougher than we were. Mentally we weren’t tough – we missed free throws and turned the ball over. That was the difference in the game. They played tough hard-nosed basketball and they went after us.... it all comes down to one word—toughness. It’s all about toughness. And we got ‘out toughed’ tonight. When a team comes in your building and they display more toughness than we did, that’s disappointing."
- Frank Haith after Miami's 91-72 loss to Clemson
St. John's (9-2) closes the pre-Big East slate with a rematch against the Miami Hurricanes (7-3), who bludgeoned the Red Storm, 66-47, in the fifth game of last year's season.
At the time, it looked like a bad loss to a low-level ACC team. But that team, on the strength of some good conference wins, made the NCAA Tournament and kept head coach Frank Haith in a job. In the NCAAs, the Hurricanes bested Australian Olympic star Patty Mills and St. Mary's before losing a close game to the University of Texas.
Fair company. But this year's 'Canes have had some hiccups, losing to Connecticut and then to Ohio State (after an ejection of leading scorer Jack McClinton) and a pasting at the hands of the Clemson Tigers. They have beaten Kentucky at Rupp Arena and the University of San Diego in the Virgin Islands. From the postgame quotes of head coach Frank Haith, one can expect to see the players try to display "toughness" on the court.
Coach will likely be able to make himself heard at the game. If the Holiday Festival attendance was any indication, the people in the stands at Madison Square Garden might be friends, family, a few season ticket holders, Miami alums, and folks from "the U" who want to get away from all that sun, sand, and partying for the cold wet slush of the Big Apple. That should get the attendance to 3,000 or so.
Meanwhile, St. John's welcomes back forward Justin Burrell from a two-game absence thanks to Sean Evans' elbow. Justin will rock a custom-made face shield for the rest of the year in practice and in games. We will see how well he adjusts to it; some people don't like the feel of a mask on their face, and it can affect peripheral vision.
Being a masked man on a basketball court is an experience that takes getting used to, as Rip Hamilton and Tyler Hansbrough have done in the past.
But basketball giveth, and basketball taketh away. St. John's point guard - and the only sure handed ball handler - Malik Boothe will sit the game out with torn ligaments in his left thumb. Malik Boothe injured his thumb in a fall during the Marist game, and had a pin insterted; he will be out 2-3 weeks. Quincy Roberts seems in line to start the game against the school he originally committed to before Miami "cooled" on him ($ Rivals.com link). He will have a chance to make plays with the ball and try to stretch Miami's man defense.
St. John's (9-2, 0-0 Big East)
Miami's coach talked to his team about "toughness"; Norm Roberts could say the same thing. The Virginia Tech run in the five or six minute span he spoke of was exacerbated by a general inability to keep the Hokies off of the offensive glass, and an inability to run basic inbounds plays successfully. Perhaps not using the shortest player to inbound the ball might work.
The Red Storm have been very good on the offensive glass and good about keeping teams to no second shots. They will have to work harder against Miami to continue the trend; the Hurricanes boast a muscular and experienced 4 man rotation in the paint.
Ball handling will be an issue for the Red Storm in this game. Malik Boothe's non-availability means Paris Horne, Quincy Roberts (4.5 ppg/ 2.1 rpg/ .7 apg), and TyShwan Edmondson (1.6 ppg/ .8 apg) are the remaining ball handlers, though Paris has not played much backup point guard, Quincy's assist numbers barely exist, and Ty has not yet made much of an impact.
As a whole, though, the team can share the ball well. Which is good, because playmaking will have to be a team effort. Dele Coker (4.3 ppg/ 2.5 rpg/ 1 bpg/ 12 minutes per game) and Tomas Jasiulionis (2.2 ppg/ 2 rpg/ 7 minutes per game) will get some time banging on the Miami bigs. Rob Thomas (5.5 ppg/ 3.4 rpg/ 59% FG) will have some opportunities backing up the forward spots.
G 23 Paris Horne SO 6'3" 185 lbs - 12.6 ppg/ 3.2 rpg/ 2.5 apg/ 38% 3PT
G/F 1 DJ Kennedy SO 6'6" 210 lbs - 13.9 ppg/ 7.3 rpg/ 2.4 apg/ 1.3 spg/ 33% 3PT
G 10 Quincy Roberts FR 6'5" 190 lbs - 4.5 ppg/ 2.1 rpg/ 46% FG
F 24 Justin Burrell SO 6'8" 240 lbs - 10.6 ppg/ 4.8 rpg/ 56% FG
PF 5 Sean Evans 6'8" 250 lbs - SO 10.6 ppg/ 6.4 rpg/ 1 spg/ 55% FG/ 49% FT
Miami Hurricanes (7-3, 0-1 ACC)
Toughness, toughness, toughness. Last year, Haith challenged his team's toughness before a couple of road games against middle of the pack ACC teams and the team won. I am sure he looks at the St. John's game as a good time for the "successful motivational speech", since the Red Storm have a number of flaws to abuse that play to Miami's strengths. Consider:
- Miami gets to the free throw line at a high rate; St. John's gave up a lot of free throw attempts to the Hokies.
- Miami rebounds extremely well on the offensive glass; St. John's, while generally keeping the glass clean, gave up 20 offensive boards to the Hokies last Sunday.
- Miami has an outside shooting weapon in Jack McClinton; St. John's can't keep up with a hot shooting night from him.
- St. John's has lost their point guard.
Haith challenged their toughness in last week's post-game press conference. I expect to see floor burns from the Hurricane players. Will it be enough? McClinton has been very good, and is the primary scorer, deadly from outside. James Dews is sharp, but prefers to shoot from outside, though he's shooting at a 34% clip. Dwayne Collins and bench player Jimmy Graham (4.7 ppg/ 6.3 rpg/ 1 bpg) have been beasts on the boards.
But. Lance Hurdle has really struggled with his shot. The team looks for more from Cyrus McGowan down low (though he has blocked many shots). Brian Asbury has been cold from outside. Eddie Rios (5.3 ppg/ .63 assist-TO ratio) is still a helter-skelter player who gets caught doing too much one-on-one, as many players on this team do. And touted freshman DeQuan Jones has been a non-factor so far.
Miami has a good tough forward rotation (Collins, McGowan, Asbury, and Graham). But the team's passing and dribbling can be exposed, as it was against the Clemson Tigers.
G 33 Jack McClinton SR 6'1" 185 lbs - 17 ppg/ 2.7 apg/ 2.2 rpg/ 41% 3PT/ 84% FT/ 1.1 assist-TO ratio
G 23 James Dews JR 6'3" 208 lbs - 8.9 ppg/ 2.5 rpg/ 1 spg/ 34% 3PT
G 1 Lance Hurdle SR 6'2" 181 lbs - 8.2 ppg/ 2.4 apg/ 36% FG
F 21 Dwayne Collins JR 6'8" 238 lbs - 11 ppg/ 8 rpg/ 1.2 spg
F 20 Cyrus McGowan JR 6'9" 235 lbs - 7.4 ppg/ 5.7 rpg/ 1.1 bpg/ 1.9 TOg/ 7-13 3PT
Five Points, or, Keys to the Game
All for One on Defense. Containing Miami guard Jack McClinton is a team effort - doubling, trapping, and making him give up the ball instead of shooting. Rebounding is a team effort - keeping the Hurricane forwards from crashing the glass. The Hurricane players sometimes hurry and look for offense off of their dribble; catching a Hurricane in a trap and getting some turnovers and run outs will improve the Red Storm's chances.
Team Effort on Ballhandling. But on offense, it will take a team effort as well - bringing the ball up court, moving to meet passes, looking for plays unselfishly. Whether it is fast breaking, breaking presses and zones, or executing half-court offense, all players have to look to protect the ball and pass whether the main point guard is there or not. The players have to remember this - they all are responsible for making plays, and each should drive and pass to his ability. If the players do not look to dribble beyond their skill level, they may just win the turnover margin.
The Mask of the Beast. The forwards have to score inside. They can match the Hurricanes muscle-to-muscle, but they have to be a factor in the box score. And St. John's has to get Justin Burrell the ball. Let Justin make plays and draw attention. Justin has talked about letting the game come to him. He needs to come to the game and rip down boards, take that jump shot, bang down low - he needs to start being a beast. He has been efficient on the season when he gets the ball. But he hasn't been on the floor enough, and he hasn't taken enough shots. Sean Evans has gone out and played like a beast. Rob Thomas has had strong moments as well. But Justin is the most versatile and talented of the three.
Toughness, Toughness, and More Toughness. I dislike the coach-speak of "be tough", as if two words help players get in position for rebounds or makes them concentrate on their free-throw shooting stroke. But this contest is going to be wrestling match, and there will be possessions available for the team that is most willing to mix it up, slide across the floor, team rebound, wrestle inside. And mental fortitude will be necessary to keep coming and playing, even when it is harder to get into offensive sets because of the lack of a point guard.
Finish the Plays, Don't Let the Play Finish You. A big factor in last week's game against Virginia Tech was Sean Evans' absence in the first half. The promising part of that was how Evans came to play in the second half, hustling for his shots and getting to the line. On the other hand, the Virginia Tech players were tough and played to the whistle - drawing fouls on the Red Storm players and rebounding offensive misses. If a shot just went up, the forward has to finish the play and make sure there isn't a rebound to grab. If a player is at the line, he has to finish the play and make that free throw. If a ball is loose, the players have to finish the play and get to that loose ball.
Prediction - Jack McClinton goes off, but St. John's puts on a good showing. But not good enough. 78-64, Miami.