Audio - Listen/ See: Aloe Blacc, Loving You Is Killing Me (in studio) (video, opens in a new window)
Tip Off: 9:30 PM, Eastern
Vs: Davidson Wildcats
Location: Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, NY
Radio: Bloomberg 1130 AM
Opposition blog/ message board: Wildcats Pride, Davidson Cats (message board)
Less than a month ago, the St. John's Red Storm had a bit of buzz going. With a fairly winnable month ahead of them before reaching the Holiday Festival, the thought was about how the new St. John's could reach Big East play with one loss on their ledger. I posted in this space that the Red Storm weren't that different than last year...
But no one could have predicted two losses to middling Atlantic-10 teams, Fordham and St. Bonaventure. The losses on the schedule look terrible. But it is interesting to note that while the team struggled, they gave up leads late in both games. They did not get blown out. The Red Storm fell short of expectations... but they did not collapse, the way some make it seem. But the losses are a problem. They kill the faith people once had in the team.
From here on, the Johnnies will face a steady diet of high-major opponents... and the Davidson Wildcats, who come in well-coached and always in position to knock off a major-conference team. The Red Storm have a tough path to their first Holiday Festival championship since 2005; according to Doug Gottlieb on the college hoops podcast (download, .mp3), the Red Storm chose to play Davidson over St. Francis for some reason - possibly for the RPI boost.
But since 2005 since a championship? That's a long time for a first-place trophy in a tournament a team hosts in their home, Madison Square Garden. Last year, Cornell beat St. John's to take the title. It's time to break the losing streak. Fans have been anticipating this tournament - and its participants - for a while.
Storm warnings, team notes, keys to the game, and more below>>
Storm Warnings: Davidson
Davidson comes to Madison Square Garden with a 5-4 record. Coached by Long Island bred Bob McKillop, they are led by the coaches' son Brendan McKillop and by sophomore center Jake Cohen, who spent the summer playing for team Israel (but speaks no Hebrew). The Wildcats are working in a number of talented freshmen into their system, including Tom Droney, De'Mon Brooks, and Jordan Dowling, who can all hit from outside and in. The Red Storm's defense of the three-pointer has been suspect, so one of those players could have a breakout performance if the Johnnies aren't careful.
Good Coaching: Bob McKillop has been winning games at Davidson for a long time (60.7% winning percentage overall, 70% in conference play), and is known for crafting tough, smart basketball teams. He is a good tactician and often finds ways of getting his team within spitting distance of a win. In last year's Holiday Festival, his team took Cornell to overtime and beat Hofstra. The Wildcats will be prepared.
Jake Cohen: Despite only logging 24.7 minutes per game - possibly due to fatigue, but also to foul trouble - Jake Cohen is the team's leading scorer, rebounder, shot blocker, free throw shooter, and shoots 40% from beyond the arc. He is a little awkward but effective, and will make the pass. He is the team's big threat, even if the guards McKillop and JP Kuhlman can put points up from their jumpers.
Turnovers: The Wildcats turn the ball over on 21% of their possessions. Jake Cohen (12% turnover rate) isn't the culprit; it's the rest of the roster, especially the younger players.
A Second Star: Davidson also lacks a second star to take the defensive attention off of Jake Cohen. If a team can stop him, the other scoring/ playmaking options are simply not that dynamic (though one never knows when a freshman is going to take a star turn).
Storm Warnings: St. John's
The Red Storm come off of a week's break to let the butthurt of the losses to the minnows of the Atlantic-10 fade. Again - they did not completely collapse, but they did fail. The team is developing a new style, and the fans hope that a) the style is a winning one and b) the team "gets it" quickly, and the talk of the seniors being untalented or Lavin's coaching fades into the memories of late fall.
Turnovers: The staff has done a great job in getting the seniors to hold on to the basketball and squeeze out as many shots as they can from their possessions. And the team is also forcing turnovers - it's the best aspect of the season so far.
Brownlee and Hardy: When they're on the floor, one of them is more than likely to take the shot. Now that Dwight Hardy seems to have found his stroke, that is a really good thing - both are quick and effective with the ball and can score inside and out.
Three-Point Defense: The defense on three-pointers has been very, very bad. Opponents are scoring 36% of their points from outside the arc - meaning that there are wild swings in the Johnnies' leads. Some of it can be attributed to running out of energy at the end of games, perhaps. Or to the scheme. But St. John's opponents are hitting 39% of their 3-point shots (301st in the nation, according to kenpom) and shooting 41% of their shot attempts from outside (322 in the nation). On top of that, opponents are recording assists on 67.7% of their baskets - 3rd worst in the nation.
All of that is to say that the Johnnies' defense isn't disrupting ANYONE. Too aggressive? I don't know, but something has to change.
Rebounding: Only Justin Burrell is rebounding well on the defensive end and getting minutes. Dele Coker and Dwayne Polee have shown flashes as the staff tries out different rotations, but the team needs some more glass work. Burrell is also the best rebounder on offense. Part of this is because of the team's style; but still, there needs to be a better effort, especially when opponents are blowing the Storm away with their shooting.
Keys to the Game
Keep The Ball Away From Cohen. Jake Cohen is the threat. Against West Virginia, he was held to 7 shots in a loss. St. John’s should try to limit his touches as much as possible to make the rest of the team carry the day.
Harass the Ballhandlers. Kuhlman and McKillop can be crafty ballhandlers, but will commit turnovers. Pressure from beginning to end will help St. John’s force miscues, score points, and salt the game away.
Slash the Interiors. The Red Storm need to attack the paint and get the Wildcats into foul trouble. Davidson has a number of players who average more than 5 fouls per 40 minutes – including all of their big men. The team has some depth that is coming along, but hasn’t played big minutes… and certainly not against an opponent like St. John’s.
Keep the Energy Up. St. John’s needs to close out halves strong, defending with their feet and remaining aggressive all game - no silly fouls, lots of defections and missed shots will be key.
Rebound Better. St. John’s needs to put a competitive effort on the boards, especially against the height of Cohen and the chances for long rebounds off of the Wildcats' threes..
St. John's will win if: ... they key on Cohen and provide a competent defensive effort against the rest of the squad, holding their effective field goal percentage 3-5 percentage points below the Red Storm's.
Transplanted New Yorker and now Midwesterner Peter a/k/a Pico writes for Johnny Jungle, doing the Calm Before the Storm posts and also for the Church of Bracketology. Pico is also on Twitter, @ECoastBias. Add the East Coast Bias to your .rss feeds; or follow by email.