Listen/ see: Muhammad Ali on Sonny Liston (video link, pops up in a new window)
This Saturday, the St. John's Red Storm will get back into action after almost a week off against Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals. The Cardinals are putting a tumultuous offseason for the coach and some eyebrow raising losses to unheralded North Carolina schools behind them to start 2-0 in the Big East.
St. John's comes is 0-2 and in need of a signature league win to renew confidence that they are as good as some thought they were earlier in the year.
The return of Anthony Mason Jr. to limited basketball action could be a nudge in a positive direction. Malik Boothe is also expected to return from a groin injury suffered against the Georgetown Hoyas.
New players require the juggling of time and an adjustment of alpha-dog statuses, but more weapons mean a more dangerous (potentially) offensive and defensive team for the Johnnies.
Both sides of the ball need to improve; the team cannot cough up as many turnovers as they did against Providence, or shoot as badly as they did against them and win.Louisville: Pluses
- Louisville continues to be a fast-paced, turnover-forcing team of athletes who go 8-10 deep with talent. The ends of the bench have mediocre shooting percentages, but were highly-recruited athletes. They can break out at any time, given the space and the ball.
- They concentrate on defense and hustle; they are elite at forcing turnovers and absolute monsters on the offensive glass and can rebound out of their areas.
- They score most effectively inside, though their guards split their shot attempts evenly between the area inside the arc and outside.
- The Cards could stroke from the outside with more consistency, and they could rebound on defense more tenaciously.
- At times, opposing teams find themselves putting up comfortable shots - as Providence did in the first half against Louisville on Wednesday. Part of this is the pressing style which leaves holes when the opponent breaks the press, and some of it is pure man to man or zone defensive principles that need improvement.
- Louisville's youth shows at times with the fouls they commit; losing the length of Earl Clark and Terrance Williams shows in the loss of experience and defensive talent.
St. John's: Pluses
- The Red Storm have defended well inside of the arc, and have been decent at blocking shots and collecting defensive rebounds.
- DJ Kennedy has emerged as an impact player, and he makes his impact all over the stat sheet.
- St. John's has lowered their turnover percentage to 19.7% of possessions - better than it has been in years.
St. John's: Minuses
- The scoring and shooting has been inconsistent at times; the wing players sometimes ignore the post scorers, and the point guards are not strong offensive threats. The scoring is not diversified, relying on deep jump shots instead of post touches, pick and rolls, or slashing plays... and opponents have stated that they know exactly what St. John's will be doing on offense, ball screens.
- Free throw shooting (connecting on 63.2% of free throws) remains a mystery to the team.
- While St. John's is competent at numerous aspects of the game, the team is not elite - even at offensive rebounding, which used to be a Red Storm forte.
More preview information, starting lineups, and team reviews on Johnny Jungle's Calm Before the Storm.
**Did you know? Since the Cardinals joined the Big East, they have beaten St. John's 3 out of 4 conference matches. The Red Storm has never faced them twice in a year.
**Did you know? Samardo Samuels is a member of the Jamaican National Basketball team - represent, Samardo!
Keys to the Game
Handle the Press. First and foremost, St. John’s has to handle the defensive pressure Louisville will be eager to bring. The ballhandling has to be tight, and they have to pass their way out of traps. Offensive awareness and teamwork are key. If St. John’s has a great day NOT turning over the ball, and getting quick shot opportunities that they make, there is a strong chance they will surprise the Cards on the road.
Work The Glass. Louisville is an impressive rebounding team. But St. John’s isn’t bad themselves when they put their minds and bodies to it. The game needs to involve a lot of physical rough play to jockey for position and win the rebounds. Second chance points will draw fouls and easy shots in the half court sets.
The Meat Grinder. Slow the game down. Make it physical. In a fast-paced game, St. John’s is likely to come out the loser; while the Red Storm has shooters, they sometimes go cold, while Louisville has a full roster of inside and out scoring.
Make The Understudies Make Plays. Stopping the stars isn’t enough; Pitino’s team can win with contributions from their bench and role players. But If those role players have to become the stars? Some of the youth on the Cardinals has been inconsistent. If St. John’s can minimize Samardo Samuels’ effect inside, and frustrate Edgar Sosa, that leaves the game up to some players who may not be ready to take the game over. Jerry Smith and Preston Knowles are experienced, talented players; but the backup forwards are learning their way in the game. All I know is letting Samardo have his way will result in a beating.
Get Hot In the Winter. St. John’s will also need either a hot shooting not overall, or a great stretch of scoring to hang with the Cardinals. They’ll get some run outs – and need to make those shots count. But I think this game will require a run of difficult/ defended shots, good offensive movement, and determined play.
From Pitino's press conference, courtesy of the Courier-Journal:
Q. As a native New Yorker, what does it mean to have St. John's get back to the heights that they've had and restore that tradition for the rest of the Big East? As in, a lot of times, you want to see your marquee programs do well so everybody does well?
Well, it's not like the Knicks, you know, like the league always says we need the Knicks to be good because it's the mecca of professional basketball in terms of exposure and publicity, they want the Knicks to be good in Madison Square garden. It's not that way... because, you know, their home is Queens, and we don't need St. John's to be a marquee game to be a great conference... certainly now, St. John's wants to be one of the marquee games because of their great tradition. And they're certainly capable of doing that, and it's all about keeping the great players home. That's the bottom line. St. John's has always been great when they can keep the great players home. You know, the Walter Berrys, the Mark Jacksons, people like that.
Q. You think Roberts has maybe started to build that a little bit there?
I do. Norm's a very good basketball coach. He's a hard worker, he's a New York guy, he's a terrific person,. It's just... you know, the tough thing about building in the Big East, it's not like other places because even if you have a very good recruiting year, you may be still 6th or 7th in the Big East. When you get started, a normal - building a program is 3 to 4 years, a 3 to 5 year window. But in the Big East it takes longer because your competition's so much greater. So it's not about - in other programs, I always used to say when you get your first recruiting class into it's junior, senior year, you're gonna start to see the fruits of your labor. Well, in the Big East, that's not always the case. You know, it may be 2 to 3 recruiting classes before you see it, because it's just necessary, being competition's so keen. Because every year the Connecticuts and the Pittsburghs and the Syracuses are just reload and have great great talent down the road... hopefully we've arrived at that point.
Q. St. John's is also one of the programs in the preseason that everybody figured might make a greater leap to the upper echelon. Do you see them as doing that even though they've kinda started off rocky, like a South Florida, when they get their players in?
Yeah, I think - St. John's will be competitive against anyone. They've got athletes, they've got the defense, they've got the coaching, the system, to on any given night you could just see them - when they played Duke at Duke, it was a war most of the game. They're that way because they play great defense, and they have very good basketball players and athletes - they could be in any game. Now, so could Cincinnati, they turned the corner so can - was Gilchrist back the other night when South Florida played? I don't think so. When he comes back... So when he comes back, you know they played Notre Dame without Gilchrist to a one-point game, so they're gonna be much better. This league, to answer your question, I'm not sure how it's gonna, it doesn't matter being 0-2 or 2-0 right now. It's not gonna be last year. It's quite a feat we accomplished last year only having 2 losses in our conference last year, that's not gonna be it this year- teams gonna take some losses this year.