Listen/ See: Sean Price, Get It Together
Tip Off: 7:00 PM, Wednesday, January 13
Vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (11-5, 2-2)
Location: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
TV: ESPNU/ ESPN 360
Opposition blog: [--none--]
Mid-January and the season already feels like an impending disaster. St. John's is 0-3 in the Big East, with tough road losses against Louisville and Georgetown, and a bad loss against Providence at home. The Red Storm return home with vocal frustration after Saturday's game.
In the words of forward Sean Evans:
"I don't think everyone's head is in the right place right now...(It) might not be (just) playing in the games. It starts in the practices and everywhere. I don't think we're all together yet."
The team held a players-only meeting after the game, and are hoping to get a little more together. As well they should. Losing to the Bearcats and going to 0-4 in the league will leave a .500 Big East season out of reach unless the team really improves... which can happen. But the bad vibes and the "fire Norm" chants will swirl around the team and jeopardize even an NIT bid.
The other factor in this game is Lincoln High schoolboy star Lance Stephenson.
He chose pick his school late - after obviously spurning St. John's and waiting for some other school, perhaps Kansas, to pick up his commitment. And then, it's not like he picked some good looking school with a track record - he picked Cincinnati. That's the equivalent of having a girl you've been pining for pick some funny-looking milquetoast douchebag whose jokes are painfully unfunny, who people tolerate more than like, a cloying mediocrity...
Which begs the self-searching question, "what's wrong with me?" Especially after Lance states in a pregame press conference:
"At St. John's I felt the players were good, plus I knew some of the players who were on the team already - that's why St. John's was on my list. I felt Cincinnati was more of a family and I felt Mick could help me be a better play[er] and I felt he was a better coach."
Ouch. Harsh words.
- Yancy Gates and Lance Stephenson. Both have fallen into solid roles; Yancy Gates is the interior offensive presence, a huge and effective scorer (54.4% EFg) on the inside and a dominant rebounder (10.6% of available offensive boards; 18.4% of available defensive boards) on both ends. Stephenson has been a very good playmaker, taking a lot of shots (25.9% of team's shot attempts when on the floor) but also passing as well. This has allowed Deonta Vaughn to concentrate on passing and shooting from the outside.
- Rebounding on both ends. Gates and Ibrahima Thomas lead the way on both ends. On the offensive glass, Steve Toyloy, Rashad Bishop and Dion Dixon often contribute; and on defense, Stephenson, Bishop and Vaughn chip in and look to make aggressive outlet passes.
- Interior defense. Teams shoot very poorly on them (41.7% 2pt FG%) from inside the arc.
- Unathletic results (1): For the shots they take, and the athletes on the team, one would expect to see a parade to the free throw line by the players, or more steals - those are often the statistical indicators of an athletic team. It doesn't happen. They consistently foul more than they are fouled, having given up 319 FT attempts to 282 drawn.
- Unathletic results (2): The Bearcats are the bottom of the league in free throw rate (attempts drawn - 28.6% of shots).
- Unathletic results (3): and their steal percentage is a pedestrian 8.8% of possessions- 13th in the Big East. The Bearcats' sometimes-sloppy play (turnovers on 20.3% of possessions) and urge to run make them a team that can be beaten when the shots aren't falling, or if the other team can shoot from the outside.
St. John's: Pluses
- Depth: Coach Roberts benched Justin Burrell in favor of Justin Brownlee. That move didn't generate a win (or offense from Brownlee), but the fact that the team can look to 5-6 other players for a spark is an indication of depth. Anthony Mason looked decent in his return, making 2 of 3 shots and boxing out for rebounds.
- DJ Kennedy: Kennedy makes plays all over the court, and has become a dependable player. Personally, I think he is better fit as a secondary player to a superstar, but he has handled his starring role solidly.
- Ballhandling: St. John's has lowered their turnover percentage to 19.7% of possessions - better than it has been in years.
St. John's: Minuses
- Weak Depth: More players need to hold down their spot and make smart, impact plays. Brownlee for Burrell didn't do much. Though Burrell's defense on Samardo Samuels was poorer than Evans/ Brownlee, the team did not find him for open looks - see diagrammed evidence here - where Burrell could have contributed on offense or at least made the defense move inside a little.
- Confidence: Evans' postgame quotes were worrisome; a team needs to be getting close to "playing together" after 2 months of games. A statement like that leads the fans to believe that players are either name-calling or not pulling their weight.
- Mediocrity Not Excellence: 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? DJ Kennedy's father, David "Puff" Kennedy, starred for the Cincinnati Bearcats, is listed among the team's leaders in points and steals, and was a draft pick of the Dallas Mavericks in the early 80's.
Keys to the Game
This Is Your Land. The atmosphere might be a little crazy among the few thousand fans who show up for St. John's games. Lance's fans will be screaming, St. John's fans will be booing... it could be electric. But St. John's has to remember to play their game, not listen for the fan reaction or try to play to the crowd, and remind Lance that this is St. John's motherf***** house.
Slow It Down. St. John's has to exert some control in the game by managing the rebounds on both ends and minimizing turnovers. Cincy will play a helter-skelter style, but often get bogged down in halfcourt sets. The Red Storm has to make them work for the points and hopefully, generate confusion and turnovers.
... Or You Got a Killer Jump Shot. Hit the shots. Hardy, Mase, and Paris have to square up and hit their jump shots. Cincinnati's size underneath will make it hard to operate in the paint - and St. John's doesn't operate in the post for offense all that often.
It's Not A Parade. Don't foul the Bearcats. If St. John's plays good position defense and doesn't allow Lance and crew to blow by them, the Bearcats will take jump shots. They don't need cheap points; make them earn it. That said, I fully expect to see a different Lance out there, trying to aggressively drive and dunk in the Garden. He's a smart, crafty player, and will be motivated to find his openings. But if St. John's guards the basket well, I think he will find himself called for more than one offensive foul.
"You can use [Stephenson's comments about Norm Roberts vs. Mick Cronin] as bulletin board (material). You could use it as inspiration," [Paris] Horne said. "We're just worrying about this game because we need this game."
That's an understatement. St. John's was in position to win its first three Big East games before unraveling late.
If the Red Storm can't find the spark for this game, there is something very wrong in Jamaica.
The Johnnies will be on their home court. They will be facing the grim prospect of remaining one of the winless teams in league play, along with South Florida, DePaul and Rutgers. And Stephenson's words should be echoing in their heads.
"How can you assess a coach before you get the opportunity to be coached by him?" Evans said. "That's his team. This is my team. I don't have anything to say about that."
Translation? The Red Storm isn't thrilled that a local player who spurned it decided to return to the city with a sack of smack talk.
"That's some people's style," Evans said. "That's not our style. That's not what we're going to do."
MSG.com/ Game On: On the Hardwood: Code Red for St. John's
So when St. John's steps onto the floor at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night against Cincinnati, I'm going to say it's beyond a must win for the Red Storm. I'm saying if Norm Roberts' team doesn't find away to beat the Bearcats, I'm ready issue a "CODE RED" on their season just the way Jack Nicholson did in A Few Good Men back in 1993.
At 0-3 in the rugged Big East, St. John's has lost the momentum it built up during their non-conference schedule that saw impressive wins over Siena and Temple. And even with a game against lowly DePaul on Sunday, the next slate of games on the Red Storm's schedule are beyond daunting.
SNY.tv: Stephenson returns home to MSG
Cincinnati Enquirer/ Cincinnati.com: Stephenson's Return to New York
But the loss to the Pirates got to Stephenson, who wants to make sure it doesn’t happen again tomorrow night against St. John’s in the homecoming that means the most to him.
"I always want to be one of the players to help take over and motivate everybody to play hard," Stephenson said. "I tried to get everybody hyped with the same energy as me because I wanted to win that game so bad. There were a lot of people I grew up with on that team that I always used to beat. This was their chance to beat me and they got it."