Ambiance: N.O.R.E. aka Noreaga, Nothin' (video link, pops up in a new window) - NSFW but good swagger music*.
The first game for St. John's Red Storm in the annual Holiday Festival pits local Hofstra against St. John's. This is the biggest game of the year! Well, maybe for Hofstra, who would love to beat St. John's as they did the previous meeting of the two schools.
I mean, read this bulls*** from their official release:
The Pride has a four-game winning streak in the series after defeating the Red Storm in four straight seasons from 2003-04 through 2006-07, all of which were by double-digit margins. The final meeting came in the championship game of the 2006 Holiday Festival, which Hofstra won 63-51. St. John's was a perfect 19-0 in the series during the 1900's, but Hofstra is now 5-2 this decade, including wins at four different venues (2000-01 at Nassau Coliseum, 2003-04 and 2005-06 at Carnesecca Arena, 2004-05 at Hofstra's Mack Sports Complex and 2006-07 at Madison Square Garden).
Hofstra is also finishing off a decade in which it has been by far the winningest program in the metropolitan New York area. The Pride has 188 wins since January 1, 2000, 17 more than the next-best team in the region (Manhattan with 171). St. John's is sixth with 150 wins (150-153) in that span, also trailing Seton Hall (165), Rider (164) and Wagner (154).
That is one particularly pointed presser. It is high time the Red Storm put those lions on their backsides... and move on to beating Cornell or Davidson, and tune up for Georgetown, a game the national media might give a damn about. It's true - Hofstra beat St. John's in the 2006 Holiday Fesitval, and also in 2005, 2004 (at Hofstra), and 2003.
It's embarrassing. You can't hang your head high after losing to Hofstra.
St. John's has enjoyed a solid year so far, garnering votes in the Coaches' and AP polls for a few weeks now. DJ Kennedy is emerging as a breakout star - and it's a true emergence, not just a player getting more time. His game is sublime, and he is carrying the squad through injuries and slumps. So far, the Red Storm have been pretty good at avoiding turnovers, giving themselves chances to score. And since the St. Bonaventure game, the team's defense has been impressive (except at Duke). The change seems to involve a bit more defensive awareness to create traffic inside - bothering shots while still keeping 3-point shooters off balance.
The Hofstra Pride have had a reasonably tough schedule, with a pair of televised games against U Conn and Kansas, a game against Charlotte, and matches against locals Fairfield and Manhattan. Hofstra has generally played a fast pace, except in the ugly, ugly game against the Manhattan Jaspers (whose final score was 44-39 - the won, if you can call that "winning"). In the losses and against Manhattan, the Hofstra scoring has been mediocre, and the team showed a tendency to settle for outside shots that weren't falling. They shoot 32% from the three-point line, with Charles Jenkins being good at shooting and the shooting-addict Cornelius Vines being... not very good except in his streaks against Connecticut and against New Hampshire.
Moreso than last year, the Pride show an unwillingness to get to the free throw line (except for star Charles Jenkins), while fouling the opponent a fair amount - even fouling the Farmingdales and Fairfields of the world. Defensively, the Pride will block some shots, which will be a problem for the burly yet short St. John's forwards. And while this might speak more to the shooting skill of the opponents, Hofstra has defended the 3-pointer very well. The Hofstra defense, again, has given up a number of fouls, but they can be imposing with young strength and veteran size inside.
It should be a good game, and it means a lot to the fans if the Red Storm can dispatch their next-county rivals. Check out Hofstra blog Defiantly Dutch for some good readings on the team and players. And at the game, find a way to make fun of their loss of a football team. Or welcome them to the land of no-football, whichever you feel is appropriate behavior in Madison Square Garden.
22 G Charles Jenkins JR 6'3 220: 19.7 ppg* 4.2 rpg* 3.9 apg* 1.7 spg* 48.6% 3PT
1 G Nathaniel Lester JR 6'5 200: 11.2 ppg* 5.2 rpg* 85.7% FT
23 G Cornelius Vines SR 6'2 190: 8.2 ppg* 4.2 rpg* 2.4 apg
2 F Miklos Szabo SR 6'9 250: 7.7 ppg* 4.8 rpg
32 F-C Greg Washington SO 6'10 215: 7.1 ppg* 5.5 rpg* 2.3 bpg* 50% FG
5 PG Chaz Williams FR 5'9 170: 25.1 mpg* 6.1 ppg* 4.1 apg* 3.5 rpg
16 F Halil Kanacevic FR 6'8 245: 24.6 mpg* 7.7 ppg* 6.9 rpg* 1.9 bpg
At some point in the game, a pair of little big men will face off in freshman Chaz Williams and St. John's Malik Boothe. But until Williams comes off the bench, Boothe and Horne will have to contend with the linebacker-sized Charles Jenkins and Conrnelius Vines. Jenkins is a graduate of Springfield Gardens HS - the alma mater of Coach Norm Roberts and Anthony Mason Sr. Jenkins is the undisputed star; he can shoot from the outside but is solid at using his bulk to get shots off inside the arc and draw fouls. He even blocks a few shots and generates steals for good measure.
Cornelius Vines is working through a shooting addiction and a lack of conscience problem, which Coach Tom Pecora is helping him solve. Wearing the number 23 makes players feel like they must be superstars... but sometimes, discretion on the court is the better part of ballin'. Nathaniel Lester is a threat on the offensive glass as guards go. From the wing, he draws fouls, has some range on his shot, and displays flashes of good defensive ability.
The Pride's frontcourt has potential to be excellent in the Colonial Athletic Association. Slim Greg Washington is an extraordinary shot blocker, and not a bad scorer given the chance. Miklos Szabo both shares the name of a dear old friend of mine and is a solid rebounder. Szabo - one of three members of the Pride who don't claim New York City area as home - is an eager shooter as well when he's in. Freshman Halil Kanacevic from Staten Island can bang + board like the other forwards, but adds some shooting ability; he can hit from the 3-point line.
St. John’s (8-1)
3 PG Malik Boothe JR 5’9 188: 5.4 ppg* 1.8 apg* 1.3 spg* 2.8 rpg* 80% FT
23 G Paris Horne JR 6’3 191: 8.4 ppg* 2.8 rpg* 1.1 spg
1 G-F DJ Kennedy JR 6’5 215: 16.4 ppg* 5.7 rpg* 3.8 apg* 1.1 spg* 51.7% FG* 40.6% 3PT
15 F-C Dele Coker JR 6’10 252: 2.2 ppg* 2.3 rpg* 2.1 bpg* 64.3% FG
5 F Sean Evans JR 6’8 255: 8.7 ppg* 6.7 rpg
12 G Dwight Hardy JR 6'2 187: 21.9 mpg* 9.8 ppg* 35.9% 3PT
32 F Justin Brownlee JR 6'7 232: 20.1 mpg* 8.7 ppg* 5.1 rpg* 1 spg* 1 bpg
DJ Kennedy has been a notable star on the Red Storm squad, leading the team in minutes, points, assists, and 3-point percentage. He just makes plays - or in the words of the immortal Noreaga linked above, he's like a hammer that you hold in your hand, he makes hits. (That doesn't make sense to me either, but it sounds good, don't it?)
At guard, Malik Boothe has made some plays, sharing time with Malik Stith. Neither has compiled great assist numbers yet, and both could protect the ball better when driving to the hoop. Paris Horne has had an inconsistent season scoring the basketball, which is somewhat surprising since he was consistent last year. His defense is solid, and he finds ways of making plays. Dwight Hardy has been very good in his role, and has been very good at hitting shots inside the arc. With the word that Quincy Roberts will be redshirting and Anthony Mason Jr. will be out a few more weeks, Omari Lawrence has a chance to get a lot of playing time off of the bench.
Dele Coker has started two games and has shown that he is reluctant to shoot and eager to block shots. he's been able to stay on the court so far, cutting down on his fouls per game to a level where he might play 30 minutes before fouling out. Meanwhile, Sean Evans has been steady bringing down offensive and defensive rebounds, and turning the ball over less. His shot has been blocked or bothered a lot, and that's an issue he'll have to deal with offensively. Justin Brownlee's shot selection could use some work, but he's been a fantastic jack-of-all-trades. He's been especially strong scoring near the hoop, with some steals and shots blocked and rebound. He and Rob Thomas will need to give strong efforts replace Justin Burrell (ankle sprain) and his production.
Keys to the Game:
Defend the Guards. The scoring threat on the team is Charles Jenkins, but the other guards have the ability to go off from outside. By the percentages, the Pride aren't great shooters; but Vines can get his confidence up and start stroking Hofstra back into the game.
Play With Energy. Hofstra will come into this game looking to make a name for themselves, looking to keep the 4-game winning streak against St. John's going. If the Red Storm want to be the best in the city (even though Hofstra's not in the city), they need to come with the energy of a team trying to wipe some little punks off of their apartment steps. The team has to come out strong and determined, make crisp cuts, and get to the foul line. They can't settle for poor, off balance shots or put in a half-baked effort. They have to challenge slimmer players like Washington and Lester.
Rebound. Hofstra has a bit of size down low, and mediocre effort won't win the rebound battles against the Pride. Dele Coker has to step his glass game up; Sean Evans has to box out; Justin Brownlee has to get those boards; Rob Thomas has to be the short-stint impact forward he's been. One of those three needs to put a strong effort up on the glass to keep Hofstra from second chance/ garbage points from the likes of freshman Kanacevic and senior Szabo. And they have to get their own opportunities on the offensive boards.
Put Up Points. DJ Kennedy has to make scoring plays throughout the game, but so does everyone else on offense. The game might end up a grinding affair, but St. John's needs to constantly put up points on the fast break, on the free throw line - whenever there is an opportunity to score outside of the half court sets.
The Opposite of Loosey-Goosey. At times the team has been careless with the basketball, especially with a lead. And they can't afford that against a team that can make a comeback... and has played for stretches with Kansas and Connecticut. St. John's has to make ball protection a priority against a squad with capable guards.
Prediction: St. John's 72, Hofstra 65. The streak of Hofstra wins comes to a merciful end. If you beat a Pride down, are they the Formerly Proud?