What do you need to know about tonight's St. John's Red Storm/ West Virginia Big East matchup at Madison Square Garden?
Daryl "Truck" Bryant and Kevin Jones have been holding things down for the surprising 'Eers, who returned the second fewest minutes in the Big East conference coming into this season. And yet, West Virginia is 15-5 with solid wins over Kansas State and Cincinnati in overtime, and an excellent home win over the Georgetown Hoyas.
"We don't give them a lot of choice," Coach Bob Huggins said yesterday. "It's like I tell them all the time, the biggest reason why most of the guys came here is because they knew they were going to play.
"They knew we didn't have a whole lot of guys coming back so they knew they were going to play. The opportunity has been there for all of them and most of them have made the most if it."
West Virginia talks like they're a young squad, but they don't know young. Much like Seton Hall, they are filled with youth in the support positions, but their main stars, the shot-takers, the bellwethers, are seniors. They have an internal narrative to work by - that ever-famous "lack of respect". The Mountaineers are unranked, but in excellent position for an at-large NCAA bid even now.
St. John's faces a team with a number of New York-are players (Bryant, Jones, and Jabarie Hinds) who could be excited to play at home... or could be looking ahead to a matchup in Syracuse against the #1 Orange.
Kevin Jones told the media after the Cincinnati game, "I mean, there are some more important games than others, games that we have to win, but you can't overlook anybody."
Mood Music: Wale, Focused f/ Kid Cudi (video, opens in new window)
Tip Off: 7:00 PM, Eastern
Vs: West Virginia Mountaineers (15-5, 5-2 Big East)
Location: Madison Square Garden
TV: ESPNU Radio: Bloomberg 1130 | Sirius: 113
Opposition blog/ message board: The Smoking Musket
Pomeroy page ($)
Storm Warnings: West Virginia
Kevin Jones is averaging 20.7 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. He's been monstrously efficient inside the arc, and will get put-back buckets. Truck Bryant also goes for his, scoring 17.5 points per game (but in far less efficient manner). The two of them take 29 field goals per game; the rest of the team takes 31, including Deniz Kilicli.
The Mountaineers have been a real achievement of coaching. A number of unheralded players help the stars by adding speed (Jabarie Hinds), shooting (Aaron Brown), and defensive toughness (Gary Browne and Keaton Miles).
West Virginia isn't actually particularly great at much besides three-point shooting defense and defending without fouling, where they rank 2nd and 3rd in the league, respectively. Teams have worked the ball inside, but haven't found great scoring success; and the Mountaineers won't bail them out. And they also don't allow second shots/ offensive rebounds; the Mountaineers are the third best team in the Big East at defensive rebounding by possession.
On offense, West Virginia will run and attack, but mostly have been good at getting the sure-handed Kevin Jones touches... and getting to the free throw line. The Mountaineers don't have glaring weaknesses.
The Five Points, or, Keys to the Game
Make the supporting cast win. St. John's has to find a way to keep Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli from posting up deep on the low block; and they have to hurry Truck Bryant into bad shot-jacking tendencies from outside the arc. In a loss to Seton Hall, he shot 3-16 from the field; in a loss to Connecticut, he shot 2-13.
Don't foul. St. John's has to defend and bother the Mountaineers without sending them to the free throw line; getting them to shoot jumpers only would be key.
The new blood? Perhaps the Villanova game has given players like Amir Garrett and Phil Greene a bit more confidence to attack teams with their athleticism. For the Red Storm, success will likely come when they can get in transition, attack, and use their quickness.
More Gifts. God`sgift Achiuwa has to be more of a factor, even if only disrupting Kevin Jones and/ or Kilicli.
Keep them off the offensive glass. St. John's struggles to keep teams off of the offensive boards; against the Mountaineers, easy buckets could put a close game out of reach.
Prediction: 68-59, West Virginia.