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Game 20: vs Duke Blue Devils

Listen/ See: Wipers, Now Is The Time (video, opens in new window)
Tip Off: 1:00 PM, Eastern
At: Duke Blue Devils
Location: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
: CBS | Radio: Bloomberg 1130 AM
Opposition blog/ message board: Duke Basketball Report | Duke Hoop Blog | Most major college basketball sites | Dick Vitale

Pomeroy Page

Tomorrow’s a great opportunity for us to show the world that we’re a great team and we can compete at a high level with everybody. We’ve just got to come out and play hard for 40 minutes and you never know what will happen.

- Dwight Hardy, pregame

The end of January can't come soon enough for the St. John's Red Storm basketball team.  The Johnnies have taken some hard punches in the form of double digit losses to a number of top-25 teams. And a close loss to Cincinnati, in a game where even last year's bad free throw shooting could have won the matchup. Now, the whiners come out - panning the talent of the players, the talent of the coaching staff. Everyone's a coach when the team's losing, of course. And many fans think their frustration is more acute than the players

But there is another month and a half of basketball, at least, to play, and many chances to turn things around.

Amidst the bad airs surrounding some of the fans, the Red Storm welcome the #3 ranked Duke Blue Devils to Madison Square Garden. The game is a near-sellout, tickets are hard to find. The Garden may just be Rumbling tomorrow with the Johnny faithful hoping to recapture the magic of the last win over Duke in 2003, made of Marcus Hatten magic.

Of course, St. John's needs to put up the competitive effort they gave the Dukies last year in Cameron Indoor. St. John's was pesky, hounding Kyle Singler and making enough plays to make the game watchable until the end; can they do more than that at home?

Can St. John's pull off the upset?

The Duke Blue Devils are 19-1 and 6-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, thrashing conference foes soundly along the way - with the exception of the loss to the lengthy Florida State Seminoles. But the ACC has been a fairly poor conference in basketball this season; the teams have been strong defensively but inconsistent with their scoring.

(Of course, so has St. John's.)

Despite the impressive record, some of the Blue Devils' early wins have come over teams we now know to be weaker than advertised - like Michigan State, or the Butler Bulldogs. This isn't to say that the Devils are paper tigers or Cincinnati, but to say that their record isn't airtight. Pomeroy's site lists their overall schedule as 58th most difficult; St. John's is listed at 6th most difficult.

But they are very good. They come with a great amount of size, a lot of talent, and a lot of jump shooting ability.

Duke: Strengths/ Weaknesses

Duke Strength: Effective size. With Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, Miles Plumlee, and Kyle Singler, the Blue Devils once again play an imposing front line. And the size is effective; Mason Plumlee hasn't been great on offense, but his rebounding has been excellent - he's grabbing 32% of available defensive rebounds in ACC play, 8 defensive boards a game. Opponents are shooting 41% on 2-pointers in their conference. And the team grabs 13 offensive rebounds per game (37.5% of their available offensive boards). That's a team using its biggitude. No, that's not a word.

Duke Strength: Nolan Smith. Some teams can shoot from outside the arc and shoot from a few feet from the rim. Not Duke; they can hit the mid-range shots too, with Kyle Singler's ability Ryan Kelly's range, all powered by Nolan Smith's driving and playmaking. Where would the Blue Devils be without him? Smith plays 39 minutes per game, scores 23.3 points per game (efficiently: ORtg of 116.8 in ACC play), nearly 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals. Great numbers, good ballhandler, a heady and athletic player.

Duke Weakness: Depth. Not that Duke's players aren't better than being worn down by depth, but one can imagine that playing 7 athletes much of the time, with Smith and Singler logging over 37 minutes per game each can hurt the Blue Devils.

Duke Weakness: Shooting? Granted, the Blue Devils will probably put up points in an efficient manner against the Red Storm.  But looking at their recent shooting... they're actually missing a lot of shots and being saved by their offensive rebounding and by minimizing turnovers from their guards. Because their in-conference shooting percentages aren't that spectacular. A look at the top 5 shooters by percentage of shots taken while on the floor:

Player (Shot %) ACC 3P% ACC 2P%
Nolan Smith (30.3%)
28.9% 47.8%
Kyle Singler (25.6%) 34.0% 49.1%
Ryan Kelly (9.3%) 50.0% 77.3%
Andre Dawkins (11.0%) 27.3% 78.6%
Seth Curry (10.0%) 32.0% 44.4%


Granted, Ryan Kelly has really come on in recent games, and Nolan Smith is wise enough to know that he should try to score inside - he only takes 29% of his shots from outside the arc. But for a team with such excellent offensive efficiency... one would expect to see a few more players shooting over 50% inside the arc. But they make it work with height, turnovers, and defense.

Keys to the Game

An Ugly Banger. St. John’s has to play the quote-unquote "city game," that ugly physical brand of basketball often considered "scrappy" and "streetball" (it's a code word for  It also looks like Big Ten basketball. And like the way St. John's has played at their best this year. Defense, energy, and a never-say-die attitude.

Work the Inside. The Red Storm's Justin Brownlee and Justin Burrell have to find ways of getting points close to the basket - it's how the offense is designed, where they are most effective, and where the Red Storm can draw fouls, as well.

Fight on the Glass. Duke rebounds their offensive misses. What if St. John's got to those boards first? Duke might just struggle. The Red Storm have to clear the glass on defense.

Speed is Key. Ballhandling will be key in this game. Duke is famous for forcing teams to speed up and turn the ball over in an anxiety to make something happen. St. John's has to be in control of the pace and the basketball; Malike Boothe and Dwight Hardy have to be probing yet careful with their ballhandling.

Clutch Points. Dwight Hardy has been cold. D.J. Kennedy has been a non-factor. But someone needs to hit some jump shots so the Blue Devils don’t just pack the paint in the halfcourt. Someone is going to have to ht some shots to stop a Blue Devil run. Someone needs to step up.