This matchup between the Red Storm and the Cardinals has the chance to be quite a beating. It could be the kind of game where even in a loss, St. John's shows its fortitude.
It also is apparently the kind of game that the local media - with no Super Bowl distraction or anything - decides not to cover. Speaking of cover, the spread is 10.5 in favor of Louisville.
The Five Points, the Keys to the Game for St. John's:
"Knowles has earned his right to play more minutes," Pitino said. "We've gotta be a great defensive team to stay in this conference hunt. ... Obviously Preston Knowles brings us some high intensity on defense. Terrence Jennings brings us shot blocking."
Protect The Ball: Louisville is long, athletic, and aggressive. They will come out forcing turnovers and confusion. But their press is something St. John's has seen; and they can work on what went wrong with the ballhandling against Seton Hall. It's not about winning the turnover battle; it's about protecting the ball well enough that each turnover doesn't give the Cardinals an easy dunk, which leads to...
Get Back on Defense! Announcer Bill Raftery correctly pointed out that St. John's jogged back on defense in one possession, in the middle of being run out of the Prudential Center. This team cannot afford to take possessions off. And with the aggressiveness of the Cardinals... they need to get back on D and make them score in the halfcourt. And if Louisville takes a lot of errant threes, they have a chance to be upset. Please, no easy shots.
Get Shot Attempts to the Scorers: Paris Horne didn't take - and make - his first shot until there were 6 minutes left in the first half, and St. John's was down 20. He's the best perimeter scorer, and the Pirates' defense isn't so good that they took him away. St. John's has to remember to stop getting twitchy and run their offense in the face of pressure and zones.
Rebound, Put Back, Get Fouled, Make It Ugly: The team needs more strength efforts in the paint - more offensive rebounding, more never-say-quit putbacks. Making the game a slow, grind-it-out affair benefits the Johnnies. Especially if they hit their free throws.
Limit Samardo; Bother Clark + Williams: In the Cardinals' more impressive offensive efforts, Samuels is clicking, putting up 8+ shots in the game. They win without his efforts; but he is the kind of player St. John's has trouble matching up with. The Cardinals have lost one game where Clark put down a 2-16 performance, and when he went 4-12 against Minnesota; they lost another when Williams went 2-15 against UNLV. Shutting one of them down gives the Red Storm a better chance to win.
Note that Pitino is calling out his team's effort. The changes in the starting lineup are to get his guys to display more energy, to get better at defense... when they're already great, but not consistent. This is NOT the game St. John's wants to be in...
The Courier-Journal: Garden's been weedbed to Cards; They're just 1-5 there as Big East program
"For a pro athlete, [playing in Madison Square Garden] is very, very special," Pitino said. "For our guys it's special, but I don't think they truly understand it -- and rightfully so. Colleges aren't well-covered in New York because it is a pro city."
Blame for the Cards' woes in the arena lies largely in another pro city. Pittsburgh stopped U of L in the Big East Tournament in the Garden the past three years, including last season's 76-69 overtime victory.
The Cards' only victory here since becoming a Big East member came in double overtime against West Virginia in the conference tournament on March 8, 2007.
"We haven't always played our best basketball, but it's primarily because we've played Pittsburgh," Pitino said. "Now if they gave us CCNY (City College of New York), we'd play much better."
St. John's isn't CCNY, but it's not Pittsburgh, either. The Red Storm relies on one of the league's youngest lineups, starting all sophomores. It is helping build a strong foundation for the future, but the inexperience has led to inconsistent play.
The Courier-Journal: Expect to see more of Knowles, Jennings
[Terrence Jennings is] a very big risk-taker -- he doesn't have any fear at all," Pitino said. "He wanted the ball against Thabeet. He was very upset that the guys didn't throw him the ball."....
Pitino said he wants U of L to be known for its defense like North Carolina is known for its fast break and Connecticut is known for shot blocking.
The Cards are second in the Big East Conference in scoring defense (60.3-point average), third in field-goal percentage defense (.386), second in blocked shots (6.7) and first in steals (9.0).
"What makes us go is our defense," Pitino said. "Obviously, we're not going to change overnight. All of a sudden we're not going to be the best-shooting team in the country just because I'm working with them in individual instruction."
The Courier Journal: Cards tweak where they're weak; Connecticut game exposed their flaws
Pitino rattled off transition defense and turnovers as two areas in which the Cards need improvement. He also said the players still tend to let offensive struggles affect the rest of their games.
"Seven times for layups we didn't rotate to the inside," he said about the UConn game. "And it's always the guys that missed the shot, it's always the guys that were having bad nights."
Earl Clark was one of them. The junior forward shot just 2 of 16 and let the rest of his game decline as well. Clark is averaging 8.5 rebounds a game but had just three against the Huskies, and for only the second time this season he did not have an offensive rebound.
"He let it affect his sprinting back in transition, his rotating to the inside, his offensive rebounding -- all that affected him," Pitino said. "You can't be ready for the NBA if you let that happen. He's got to realize that. In two months, when he's ready to make that jump to the NBA, he'd better mature right now."
NY Post: Storm hope rebound in the Cards
[Coach Norm] Roberts was adamant that the loss at Seton Hall was not a setback, even though the Pirates scored the most points against the Red Storm since Niagara posted a 102-81 win in the third game of 2004-05, Roberts' rookie season. Roberts also didn't believe that the Seton Hall loss was all Boothe's responsibility.
"He's our point guard and he knows that he's our leader out there on the floor," said Roberts. "It's not all on Malik. We didn't execute as a team."