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Game 29: St. John's at Syracuse Orange

Listen/ See: Fall Out Boy, Sugar, We're Going Down (video link, pops up in a new window)
Tip Off: 7:00 PM, Tuesday, March 2
At: Syracuse (27-2, 14-2)
Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY
Opposition blogs:

Troy Nunes Is A Magician
Orange: 44
Cuse Country

Pomeroy page

Coach Norm Roberts - Pregame Quotes:

"We’re capable of it. We have to play 40 minutes. Syracuse is a great basketball team and doesn’t make many mistakes. We need to make shots and defend their players inside. Everything they do stems from their big guys keeping balls alive. We have to neutralize their big guys. They want to get the ball inside. Dele Coker and Justin Burrell should start for us tomorrow in a big lineup."

The regular season of the Big East is coming to a close for the Red Storm with two road matchups. The first one is in snowy Syracuse, against the now-consensus number 1 ranked Syracuse Orange in the Carrier Dome. Thousands of orange fans will be cheering their team to crush the red-clad opposition on their way to the outright Big East regular season championship.

The Red Storm has had better offense, and has reduced their turnovers. But the small improvements haven't been able to close the large gap between being in the bottom 4 and being in the middle 8. The results from this team (and perhaps the effort) have been inconsistent.

A slew of middling performances on offense against the top teams in the league suddenly gave way to veritable offensive explosions against Louisville, Notre Dame, and South Florida. Meanwhile, the defensive performances have averaged out to decent for the Big East, but far from dominating; and blips like the performance against Pittsburgh (allowing 71 points on 47 shots) and Rutgers (84 points on 55 shots) keep the team far from competitive, and should have observers questioning the team's ability to pull out a gritty win.

Moreover, the upper level offensive teams had their way with the Red Storm, except for Louisville in the second matchup. Teams that take a higher percentage more of their attempts inside the arc like Connecticut and Pittsburgh have certainly enjoyed their success inside; Syracuse is fourth from the bottom of the Big East in three-pointers taken. The Red Storm will need to defend the paint... as they did not against the Panthers on Saturday.

That said, St. John's has gotten in some hot starts against teams that didn't take them seriously - Villanova this year, #1 Pittsburgh last season... St. John's might just come out ready to win the implausible.

Syracuse Pluses

Defense: With a combination of steals (11.5% of opponents possessions are stolen in Big East play), not allowing free throws (only 26.9% free throw rate for opponents in conference), and an effective field goal percentage allowed of 47.2% in their 2-3 zone with length, the Orange defense is spectacular. They are allowing .98 points per shot in a Big East filled with elite offenses.

Evenly Distributed Scoring: The team that lost to local Division II LeMoyne College in exhibition play has topped 90 points 7 times, and have been dutifully blowing out everyone. No regular takes more than 22.9% of the shots when he's on the floor, and no regular takes less than 18.7% of the shots. There are threats up and down the roster.

Syracuse Minuses

Wes Johnson's Health/ Depth: If Wesley Johnson is injured, it cuts into the team's depth, and eliminates a steady defender and smart player. Playing 7 regularly could be a problem if the Orange get into foul trouble, though Mookie Jones and Dashonte Riley have been decent in limited time.

Rebounding: The Orange's offensive rebounding leaves a bit to be desired, but this may be a problem of limited chances for rebounds, since they shoot so well.

St. John's Pluses

Lack of Turnovers: Relatively. The Red Storm has been better at taking care of the ball this year than in previous years, allowing them the chance to get their shots off. This year, they're about 9th in the league.

Defense: The Red Storm are fourth in the league, restricting Big East opponents to 1.02 points per possession. And the team is second in the league in not allowing second chance points - opponents only rebound 31.6% of their misses.

St. John's Minuses

Inconsistent Effort/ Execution: The season hasn't been filled with consistently bad offense, making the low points even more eyebrow-raising.

Poor Shooting: At 6th in the Big East in field goal attempts but 15th in offensive efficiency - all while playing slow-paced 65 possession games (13th in the league in pace)... well, they're not good at scoring the basketball.

Did You Know: It's Syracuse's senior night.

Keys to the Game

No Easy Runs. In the loss against Louisville, the Cardinals restricted the pace for the Orange. And St. John's has to take a cue from that, making the game slow and ugly. No one gets out. NO ONE. No run outs. The goal on defense has to be first and foremost to slow them down and keep them from crushing, crowd-pleasing runs.

Clog the Interior. St. John's has to use what height they have to get poor shots out of forwards Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku. Those two are the most efficient scorers on a team that prefers to go inside rather than jack shots from the outside. The team has balanced scoring, so they CAN score without those two; but good interior defense will slow down the Orange attack.

Shoot The Lights Out. St. John's is going to need, at the very least, a good offensive performance to compete with the Orange. A great performance could make the fans in the dome get a little tight.

Catch Them Sloppy. If the Syracuse team comes out with a lackadaisical attitude, or loses concentration, the Red Storm have to attack them hard. If they can force turnovers from the Orange and score off of those, throw off their offensive attack, the team can give themselves a chance to win.

Own the Glass. Restricting second chance points will go far towards keeping the Syracuse scoring total within a reachable point for St. John's.