A few days later, a ridiculous loss to the Fordham Rams isn't so painful. For in the interim, I've gotten sick (food poisoning? stomach bug?), enjoyed a refrigerator leak, and have otherwise had lots of distractions to keep me from looking at the DVR'd version of the Red Storm game on YES, recorded via satellite television while I watched the debacle up close. If you're really looking during the timeout with 9.2 second, you can see a little dark figure with a hand on the side of his face - that's me - with a curly-haired fellow grinning - that's Eben.
I made myself watch the game last night.
What stands out to me was how the comeback came kind of... casually. The Rams didn't really come up with a new way of playing basketball. They didn't look wildly different. The scheme changes they made were to adjust to the presses and also the defensive zone they played that protected Chris Gaston and Brenton Butler. Kudos to Tom Pecora.
The lack of change in the Red Storm is more interesting. Read more, after the jump>>
While beating the Rams fairly soundly, the team continued to press. An aggressive strategy, waylaid a bit by what looked like tired legs. Paris Horne, in particular, got beat covering his man or his zone early in the second half. Justin Brownlee picked up his third and fourth fouls within about a minute of game time; his fifth came a minute after he was reinserted. Malik Stith and Dwayne Polee weren't much better - no one was. And Fordham attacked their way into the bonus early.
There didn't seem to be much depth, with Malik Boothe's minutes limited by hamstring issues he's had in the past, Quincy Roberts in street clothes, and Sean Evans... glued to the bench. But the press was being attacked well - Fordham sprinted their way to 16-0 runs. We'll get back to this tomorrow, and talk about Lavin's lineup choices - and what's driving the rotation.
The way the zone press was working, it sped up the Rams. Unfortunately, it sped them up to the places where they wanted to shoot. Coupled with the Red Storm's defensive miscues/ dead legs, that meant shots the players were expecting. They set them up and they took those shots.
And maybe that's a problem with the press with some teams. If a player knows where his open spot is going to be, and he can get there, set his feet, receive a pass and shoot, will a hand in the face be less effective? It's harder to put up a good accurate shot with a hand in the face if that hand comes after body bumps, hip jostles and obstructions of any clear look a player has at the hoop; maybe with this kind of press, the player has been able to get his sense of on-court place read, and just has to pull the trigger.
The Pace/ St. John's Offense
The Johnnies' scoring was entirely complicit in Fordham's runs. It wasn't just bad defense. The inability to turn the Rams over was a factor, with Fordham cutting down their turnover ratio in half (from 31% to 16%). The free throw disparity in both halves is noticeable (12 for Fordham, 9 for the St. John's in the first half; and 18 for the Rams, 9 for the Johnnies in the second).
But should the Red Storm have used more clock in each offensive possession? Malik Stith and DJ Kennedy took a few "hero" shots - the kind of shot only an offensive star should take, and he takes it because no one wants to stifle his creativity. Shots with 30 seconds left on the clock, from the top of the key, unguarded? It might be a solid shot - especially if the shooter is money and wants to hammer the opponent into submission. But maybe the hammer is not the tool to use in that situation.
Those shots - and giving the ball to Fordham after the misses and even the makes - change the game into a track meet. I see where that could and should work. Fordham was 6 deep and had to be getting tired; St. John's should be a superior collection of athletes; those shots should get the Rams on their heels. But that style of salting the game away didn't work.
I come away from watching the game thinking that perhaps Lavin and his staff want to foster a collective aggression from his team - the idea that they never should stop attacking. The approach needs modification, obviously, because the Rams shouldn't have been that close. What needs to change? Check back tomorrow. For now, the Keys to the Game recap:
Keys to the Game
Force Turnovers. Fordham got into their offense, and St. John's didn't force them to give up the ball significantly higher than they normally do (24.3% of possessions, opposed to the average 23%). C
Defend the Outside Shot. 50% in the first half from three-point land. 55% in the second half. Not good. F
Make the Shots. Dwight Hardy exploded; DJ Kennedy, Horne, and Justin Burrell put up some points. The threes REALLY didn't fall in the second half; neither did the jump shots. B
Negate the Rebounders. Fordham was slightly better on the glass than St. John's, though this wasn't the biggest factor in the game. B-
Get Into the Depth. The Red Storm found some plays that isolated and attacked Chris "4 fouls" Gaston late. Why not earlier? Why did Brenton Butler play the WHOLE SECOND HALF with 4 fouls? The Rams played 6 players, per usual, with a 7th getting a whopping 6 minutes, and another player getting 1. Absolute fail. F