St. John's travels to Marquette to face the former-Warriors in Milwaukee for a Valentine's Day matchup. I don't think there will be a lot of love or tender kissin' om this one.
A benefit of moving to Chicago for me was that I would likely be able to catch a St. John's game in suburban Chicago, in Milwaukee, or in South Bend, IN. But this season has been depressing; St. John's is a practice break for the better teams before they face more ranked opponents.
To their credit, St. John's has put up some good fights... for halves. That's progress from last year.
But Coach Norm Roberts' road record is terrible.
And Marquette's ballhandling and turnover/ pressure-producing strengths match too well with St. John's weaknesses. Added to a recent tendency to start games off steps slow on defense and on offense (where they are not good to begin with)...
It's gonna be a long evening. Happy Valentine's Day! The spread is 16 points in favor of Marquette. Keys to the game, below.
Five Keys to the Game
The Basics: Shoot Better, Stop Them From Shooting. Dayton defeated the Golden Eagles by speeding up Marquette's pace and forcing them to shoot under 45% effective field goal percent (39% from the field overall). Tennessee held them to 43.8% eFG (37.5% from the field), and South Florida held them to 42.6% (38.9% from the field) in a slow-paced game.
So holding them under 40% from the field overall, and not letting those include a high percentage of made three-pointers is key. Getting the ball out of Jerel McNeal's hands and stifling Lazar Hayward is a start.
Note: I cannot stress enough how much St. John's seemed to miss the basics of basketball in the last game, allowing an effective field goal shooting percentage near 70%. That's just bad defense.
Less Helter and Less Skelter. St. John's must obviously hold on to the basketball. But in addition to that, St. John's must be intelligently aggressive - they can't play faster than their pace, they have to control the runouts both from Marquette and from themselves; if the opportunity is not there, better to wait instead of coughing up a possession.
Note: I would make that simpler and talk about aggressively breaking the press, but then I had images of Malik Boothe breaking the Seton Hall press in their matchup, and then missing 9 of his 12 shots, many at the basket. Not everyone on the Red Storm should be shooting, and they should know who they are.
Fast In The Right Spurts: On a related note, the Golden Eagles would love to get their athletes into space and make plays, draw fouls, and blow this game out early. St. John's has to expect that; make Marquette take long jumpers as often as possible, and take those rebounds and run it down their throats. They are good defenders, but St. John's has athletes as well.
St. John's can't play in a track meet. It just won't work. But they can't play a complete halfcourt game, their offense isn't that good. But running off of misses is always a good strategy if the finishers can get into position.
Offensive Rebounding: St. John's misses a lot of shots. Second chance opportunities are one of the things the Red Storm actually does well; and shooting the way they are in conference, third and fourth chance opportunities might be needed.
Get Burrell and Horne Clicking... Which Means Running Your Offense. Get shots for Burrell. Get Evans shots in transition. Less DJ Kennedy shooting, less Boothe shooting bailout shots, and more Paris Horne.
Cracked Sidewalks Preview, including stats recommendations and pregame press conference from Marquette coach Buzz Williams.
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Matthews says MU will rebound
[Wesley Matthews said] "We're a group of fighters, and when a fighter's backed into a corner, you know what they're going to do. They're going to come out swinging, and they're going to keep swinging. And that's how we feel right now."
Chicago Tribune: Marquette's McNeal downplays school scoring record
"Until we've got our defensive mindset back and our edge and everything, we'll have a hard time winning any games," McNeal said....
Marquette coach Buzz Williams put it more bluntly.
"There's only one problem: We don't guard," Williams said.
New York Post: Reeling Red Storm Gift-Wrapped for Marquette
"You have to go and take the win," Roberts said of playing on the road. "You have to go and take it. You almost have to hope a little that they're not playing great at home as well, and then you've got a chance to win a road game.
"We've let teams get off to too many good starts," he added.
All the factors are in place for the Red Storm to get off to another slow start. They returned home early Thursday morning after the Cincy loss. Yesterday they flew to Milwaukee.
The Golden Eagles (20-4, 9-2) returned home Wednesday morning after a 102-84 thrashing at Villanova. It was their second straight league loss after opening 9-0.
St. John's arrives today, looking like a nicely wrapped box of candy.