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Game 29 preview: St. John's Red Storm at Seton Hall Pirates

Listen/ See: Faze-O, Riding High (video, opens in new window. You've heard the song sampled frequently)
Tip Off: 7:00 PM, Eastern
AtSeton Hall Pirates (11-17, 5-11 Big East)
Location: Prudential Center (aka "the Rock"), Newark, NJ
TV: ESPN 2 | Radio: Bloomberg 1130 AM
Opposition blog/ message board: South Orange Juice

Pomeroy page

Also see: Q & A with Chris Mullin | 5 questions with South Orange Juice | Rumble in the Garden's responses to South Orange Juice questions

St. John's basketball is just rolling right now. With a number of days off since the Villanova road victory, and doing interviews all over the place to satisfy the interest of NYC hoops fans, the Red Storm have that swag popping. They're feeling good about themselves, getting ready for the Big East Tournament.

St. John's has to get these two winnable games salted away to get the coveted double-bye in the Big East Tournament, giving them two more days to rest and practice.

Tonight's opponent, the Seton Hall Pirates, have been a roiling sea of tumult. From the offseason:

First, the Theodore situation - a reading of the incident and the ever-changing story from Keon Lawrence's mother makes the whole thing smell like an old fish story. It stinks that Theodore has to be caught up in this foolishness that will chase his name wherever he goes.

The facts from those who have been nearby and the more detailed articles indicate that the Seton Hall staff knew about some confrontation and played Theodore. Coupled with the floating stories... I would be very surprised if this isn't dismissed. Jordan will play tonight. And as for the game itself, Jeremy Hazell on the team's motivation:

'We're both in the metropolitan area, and they're getting a lot of publicity because they've been winning. We want to try to spoil that just so we could be the talk of the town and the metropolitan area."

The motivation: pure haterade.

But the Hall could pull off the upset. Learn more about Seton Hall, what's gone wrong this year, and Keys to the Game - below the fold.

Storm Warnings: Seton Hall

Kevin Willard came to Seton Hall as a less-heralded coach than Steve Lavin or even Mike Rice, who had a dramatic tournament appearance on his resume. Willard had the backing of Louisville coach Rick Pitino, coaching lineage from his dad, and a history of building a program from Iona.

None of that prepared him for what he walked into, and for completely changing the style of play at Seton Hall. The style needed changing; it had been described as an every-man-for-himself system, a system where aggression and taking shots that most coaches would consider out of rhythm or bad shots was encouraged. This, of course, works better when shots are being made, and the Hall had shot creators. But when the shots missed, the Pirates had a hard time maintaining balance on the floor and getting back on defense.

This year, the pace has slowed from 69.2 possessions per game in 2010 to 67.5 in 2011. The are still one of the fastest teams in the league - second to Providence. But the Hall has calmed down and have become one of the Big East's best defenses with sharp perimeter defense (allowing 30.2% shooting on threes) and forcing turnovers on 21.4% of opponents' possessions.

It would be a great boon to the team... if they could shoot at all. Or select the correct shots. The team is at the bottom of the Big East in three-point shooting at 24.7%. At that point, every player should reconsider every time they jack up a shot. Jeremy Hazell leads the reign of error in the table below:

3pa/ 2pa
Jeremy Hazell
Jeff Robinson
Fuquan Edwin
Jordan Theodore
Herb Pope
Eniel Polynice
Patrik Auda
xx Jamel Jackson
xx Keon Lawrence

xx- the players who have left the team during conference season

If a player can't hit 33% of his three-point shots, but can hit 50% of his inside attempts, it's worth more for him to take the two point attempts.

That's simplistic, of course; if a defender knows a baller won't take the shot from the outside, they will shade that player for the inside drive. But still, Hazell can score inside. So can Robinson (who is close to the break-even mark for perimeter shooting). So can Theodore. Pope is close to solid inside, but drifts for deep two-point jumpers and threes.

There are just a lot of bad shot choices on the Pirates. And Eniel Polynice, who thankfully doesn't shoot very often.

Still, the Hall does force a lot of turnovers. They did beat Syracuse earlier in the year by 22 points. Jeremy Hazell has been a great shooter in the past. And Herb Pope has a wealth of ability. If St. John's isn't careful, they could take a very long and dejected bus ride back to Queens from the Rock.

Seton Hall: Pluses/ Minuses

Pirates Positive: Forcing turnovers. Seton Hall forces turnovers on 21.4% of opponents possessions. They have agile defenders with long arms; Hardy may be stifled by Polynice at times.

Pirates Positive: Defending the perimeter. The long arms come into play once more.

Pirates Negative: Offensive rebounding. We touched on their atrocious shooting already, but with so many missed shots, one would like to see a team battle for offensive rebounds.Only Herb Pope snags the teams' misses and extends possessions for the Pirates.

Pirates Negative: No free throw attempts. A by-product of the perimeter attack is a head-scratching lack of free throw attempts from players who seem perfectly capable of drawing fouls. The 6'6, 230 pound load that is Jeff Robinson may never turn the ball over, but he also only has 26 free throw attempts but 179 shot attempts. That 14.5% rate is very bad, the profile of a catch-and-shoot player. Hazell and Theodore do better, but not half well enough to make up for the teams terrible shooting - the Hall doesn't do enough to put points on the board.

Keys to the Game

Justin Burrell on the matchup (from Red Storm Sports): "These games are actually harder. If you see throughout college basketball when there’s a team that, for lack of better words, is supposed to win the game – if you see those games, they’re sometimes close because teams overlook them or don’t come out with the same intensity as if they were playing somebody that it could be a 50-50 toss up. So we’re actually paying attention, focusing in on Seton Hall and making sure we go out and get a victory."

No let up! St. John’s can’t let them get into a rhythm early; this is their big game, and the Red Storm have to attack with energy and continue to scrap the way they have in the month of February. the defensive intensity from Paris Horne and D.J. Kennedy has to be high.

Rebound. The game will be scrappy, and possessions will be at a premium. The Hall will come with defense and St. John's has to make sure to keep them off the glass at both ends. Sean Evans and Justin Burrell can bang with Herb Pope and the freshman bigs, Patrik Auda and Aaron Geramipoor.

A little patience. The Johnnies have to play within themselves, creating scoring opportunities as they have in recent games. The patient approach has allowed for the team to find the right player at the right time for the right shot. It may not be as smooth as in previous games, but the Red Storm should perform well if they're not trying to showboat.

Watch for turnovers. The Pirates do a solid job of turning over opponents. St. John’s needs to protect the ball and end their possessions with shots.

Kennedy + Hardy. Dwight Hardy needs to once again lead the team attack of the Seton Hall Pirates. The Pirates are also foul prone, so we look to see Dwight Hardy and D.J. Kennedy at the free throw line numerous times.

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