The St. John's Red Storm (8-9, 2-4 Big East) are reaching that demoralizing point in a rebuilding season where tough reality starts to settle in. The loser of two straight games where they lost control of the other team in the second half, the Johnnies now have a losing record on the season.
Fortunately, the next two opponents have been less successful than the Hoyas and the Golden Eagles on the court. Unfortunately, one main feature of this year's Big East is that all of the teams are competitive.
Coming off of the loss to the Hoyas, the Red Storm hope to reduce their turnover rate and score more than a point per possession - they haven't hit that mark in the last four games. And the Johnnies want to have their two lynchpins, Moe Harkless and D`Angelo Harrison, to log 35-40 minutes and lead the team to victory.
Can it happen against the South Florida Bulls (10-8, 3-2 Big East), they of the three-man post depth and lengthy wings? Or will South Florida finally shake their 0-6 record against the Red Storm in the Big East?
"I think there is a big mental challenge here because it's a very talented basketball team that we face," Stan Heath said. "I think their record is deceptive." For the Bulls, whose non-conference results made them a longshot for postseason play, every game is important in their season. Tonight's game is a big test of legitimacy for the Bulls.
More preview, a look at South Florida's strength and weaknesses, plus a prediction, below the fold.
Mood Music: The Pixies, Gigantic (video, opens in new window)
Tip Off: 7:00 PM, Eastern
Vs: South Florida Bulls (13-3, 3-2 Big East)
Location: St. Pete Times Forum
TV: SNY | ESPN3 Radio: Bloomberg 1130 | Sirius: 94 | XM Radio: 190
Opposition blog/ message board: Voodoo Five
Pomeroy page ($)
Storm Warnings: South Florida
After years of high turnovers and minimal production from the speedy but tentative Anthony Crater, the Bulls went out to find a point guard in junior college star Blake Nash. But they found their guard of the future in surprising freshman Anthony Collins. Nash is good - he can score and get to the line - but Collins adds a slick feature to a South Florida offense that easily stagnated with selfish shooters. Collins can really pass. He can lose his handle, true, but he can also effectively attack with speed and good vision.
The rest of the team features some excellent size, a designated shooter, and some athletic wings. The Bulls play the slowest pace in the Big East, so don't expect the final score to crack 70. USF also nails its free throws at 78.6%, highest in conference play.
The record looks poor, as do their losses to Penn State, Old Dominion, and Auburn. But as mentioned in the Q&A with Voodoo Five, the injuries played a part. In particular, this is a different team with the playmaking of Collins and the athleticism of Jawanza Poland, who is connecting on 54% of his two-point attempts.
Bulls Strength: Imposing size. It's not that Augustus Gilchrist, Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, and Ron Anderson Jr. are just tall. They're also big around, like sequoias. Or barrels. Gilchrist is listed at 6'10/ 235; Fitzpatrick at 6'8/ 243; Anderson at 6'8/ 237. i don't know that I believe those weights.
Whether it's truth or an online dating profile fiction, Anderson is one of the best offensive rebounders in the country, grabbing 15.9% of the Bulls' misses when on the floor. He can fend off two defenders himself. Fitzpatrick grabs 25% of opponents' misses, also one of the top numbers in the nation. Anderson also posts up well, and scores on 58% of his interior attempts.
St. John's allows opponents to get 40% of their misses, giving up over 50% to the Hoyas last Saturday.
Bulls Strength: Deep contributions. Now that the team is healthy, Stan Heath can play wither Jawanza Poland on the wing for offense or Hugh Robertson for defense. There are two, maybe three players who can handle the point guard duty. The forward spots have depth. Shaun Noriega can be a deep shooter. The Red Storm will have a lot of players to keep track of.
Bulls Weakness: Bad shots. For some reason, Gus Gilchrist and Victor Rudd will end possessions with a deep or mid-range jumper. Not out of desperation, but because despite evidence to the contrary, they think they can make the shot. Gilchrist shoots 39% from inside the arc; Rudd shoots 41% from inside, 19% from outside, and takes half of his attempts from three.
In Gilchrist's case, it's particularly egregious. The senior has solid post moves when he chooses deep position. Rudd has slowed down the number of bad jacks he takes, though that may be a by-product of reduced playing time. But deep misses lead to long rebounds, which lead to transition opportunities.
Bulls Weakness: Turnovers. The Bulls give up the ball on 22.7% of their possessions with a combination of bad passes and mental errors. The Red Storm haven't been forcing turnovers as actively as they might like; this is a game where they could turn up the intensity.
The Five Points, or, Keys to the Game
Plant the flag. Anderson will just draw fouls if he gets into the circle. Fitzpatrick and Gilchrist can be dangerous here, but Anderson is the most intimidating post threat.
Hungry for the rock. This game could use an unexpected and unreal rebounding performance from God`sgift Achiuwa and Harkless. Forcing longer misses will give the Red Storm a chance. If the battle is within the circle under the basket for rebounds, the Johnnies are in trouble.
Two-Star Night: The Storm need both D`Angelo Harrison and Moe Harkless to shine for a road win in Tampa. If the team can force turnovers and put these two in opportunities to be playmakers, the Storm have a real chance.
Protect the ball. The Johnnies can't afford to let the Bulls run after a miscue. Best way to prevent it? Don't end a possession with a turnover, of course.
Prediction: I'll go risky with this prediction, 62-59, St. John's.