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Game 23: St. John's vs. Louisville Cardinals

"Can't get the stink off/ it's been hangin' 'round for days."- Radiohead

Listen/ See: Radiohead, Just
Off: 7:00 PM, Thursday, February 10
Vs:. Louisville Cardinals (15-8, 6-4)
Location: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Opposition blogsCard Chronicle (yes, there's only one regular-posting, basketball-centric Louisville blog.)

Pomeroy profile

Notes on Louisville

On Thursday evening, St. John's will honor the 25th anniversary of the 1985 Final Four team at halftime of the Louisville Cardinals game. With Bill Wennington, Chris Mullin, and more in the house, it will be another stark contrast between the heights the program once reached and the struggles the program has had through much of the last 18 years, and to the struggles of the current squad.

While fans are angry about the current state of the team, it's kind of like being angry only at Barack Obama for the state of the country and job creation - it takes a lot of poor decisions to get a team to this place. And the fix may not be that easy - see my next post on Norm Roberts' hot seat for a bit on that.

But in the now - can St. John's take a little inspiration and knock off the Louisville Cardinals at home?

Last Saturday, the Red Storm had a nice thing going, leading by double-digits over West Virginia in the Garden. The Mountaineers were sleepwalking, taking poor shots... and then they remembered to play basketball. Da'Sean Butler got loose. And West Virginia scored 3 points less in a half than St. John's scored in the whole game.

St. John's wasn't much worse on offense (which was bad - .92 points per possession in the first half, .82 in the second) in the second half than the first. But they were far worse on defense (summed up by Ballin' is a Habit), especially against Butler, who went 7 for 7 from beyond the arc, powering the Mountaineer offense. West Virginia scored 57 points on 33 possessions. 1.87 points per possession. That's simply unreal. I'm not sure a team could do that against an intramural basketball team.

The team is probably out of any sort of NCAA Tournament picture, but they still have a winning record overall; some confident play can defeat their next set of unranked opponents, even in these low-confidence moments. The team just has to believe... and make shots.

The Cardinals are the first of three opponents St. John's will face twice this season. Since the last contest (you can read the Johnny Jungle breakdown as well), St. John's has returned Anthony Mason Jr. to full game action, has won 2 but lost 5 games, has heard "Fire Roberts" chants during games, and has struggled to maintain leads (but at least they are getting leads).

Meanwhile, Louisville has gone 3-4, with 3 road losses. They have been allowing a large number of free throw attempts, high 3-point shooting efficiency, and a fair amount of second chances for opponents.

(photo courtesy of Red Storm Sports)

Louisville Pluses

Depth: Louisville is switching starting forwards tomorrow night, putting the slimmer Jared Swopshire in instead of the bulkier - and less technically sound - Terrence Jennings. The guards/ wings are a strong unit, from the senior experience of Jerry Smith to the youthful energy and muscle of Mike Marra.

Theivery: Despite not having the defensive game-changer Terrence Williams anymore, the Cardinals are leading the league in steal percentage in conference play.

Offensive Rebounding: The Cardinals have a strong low-post force in Samuels. They lead the league in conference play in offensive rebound percentage, and can convert in the paint.

Louisville Minuses

Go-To Players: Outside of Samardo Samuels, the team depends on different players in different games. The guards and wings' shooting have been inconsistent, and the Jennings/ Swopshire switch also indicates that neither is good enough to become a fixture at their position.

Field-Goal Defense: It's impressive how far the Cardinals have come on the strength of forcing turnovers and getting shots from those turnovers. Impressive, because the team is allowing teams a free throw for almost every other shot attempt and teams are shooting almost 40% from beyond the arc on them. Here, the offense seems to have come before the defense.

Defensive Rebounding: The defensive rebounding percentage is 16th in the league. They're allowing a LOT of second shots.

St. John's Pluses

First-Half Prowess: The Red Storm has found ways of getting decent first half leads against the likes of West Virginia, Villanova, and more.

Defensive Rebounding: St. John's is 3rd in the league in cleaning up the other team's misses.

A Resurgent Burrell: Justin Burrell, all of a sudden, looks like a player again - hitting the sweet mid-range jump shot, going after rebounds, and putting up solid numbers. Hopefully the rest of the league will see how he can play when motivated.

St. John's Minuses

Second-Half Collapses: No one - including the players - know what it is. Is it coaching? Is it endurance? is it a lack of training? Is it confidence? It's likely most of those (but not endurance, the players don't log that many minutes in conference). And additionally, a team that can't score on a regular basis is going to have some lulls; a team that is good at scoring will have their runs. When the two meet, it looks like a collapse, when in truth it's a regression to a standard. The second half "collapses" are like clockwork, and they have the team demoralized.

Offense: With an in-conference effective field goal percentage of 43.8% (15th in the league), an offensive efficiency of 92.8 (15th in the league), a 3-point shooting percentage of 30.5% (13th), a free throw rate of 27.3 (14th), an offensive rebounding percentage of 33.4% (11th in the league), and a propensity to get shots blocked (9.8% of shots, 16th in the league), it's hard to overstate how few options the team has to score. With a team of juniors, this is an indictment of the system and training. No wonder they have droughts.

A Declining Kennedy/ Hardy Tandem: Related to the above, Dwight Hardy and D.J. Kennedy have struggled to get double-digit points recently. Part of this is a lack of adequate point guard play as well; neither player is great off the dribble.

For more pregame, please read the preview at Johnny Jungle's Calm Before the Storm.

And if you haven't yet looked at the stats from St. John's conference play so far, you should.

Keys to the Game

Handle the Press. Louisville, as always, will come with presses and traps. The Red Storm have to handle the press. In the previous game at Louisville, the Red Storm did decently against the press except for some short spurts... which helped create the Cardinals' runs. In a game with ebbs and flows, the team needs to ebb less, since they don't have the firepower to come back from a debilitating 10-2 or similar Louisville run.

Aggressive Play Gets To the Line. The Cardinals have given up their share of fouls. And the Red Storm can drive to the hoop better than they have been, especially with the holes that are usually there in the press. If the team can get to the line more, they will have a better chance of winning.

Defend the Paint. Whether it's on post-ups by Samuels or if it's getting back on defense like a team that cares, St. John's cannot make any 2-point shot easy. Make the Cardinals earn it with their jump shooting. Easier said than done, of course; beating post players to their preferred spots, taking good shots within the offense to prevent run-outs, and racing back on D are all necessary to keep the Cardinals from easy looks.

Body Up Samuels + Swopshire. Both are excellent rebounders, especially on the offensive side. St. John's has to locate them and keep a body on them when the shots go up on either end.

Get The Weapons Going. Hardy and Kennedy struggled mightily against West Virginia. And Justin Burrell got 3 shots in the second half of that game. These three - and Paris Horne - are the offensive weapons. If the team has a chance to win at home, they have to get to scoring and scoring efficiently.