Last December, St. John's traveled to Michigan to see the Red Storm take on the Detroit Titans in a true road game, a dedication for Dick Vitale Court. It was a crowded affair, a sold-out show televised on ESPN, with Sir`Dominic Pointer's family in attendance and the youthful Red Storm learning the ropes of Division I play after a loss at Kentucky.
That crowded affair and inner team tumult led to a lackluster 69-63 loss to the talented and tall Titans, who sent the home fans into the wet snowy Detroit night with a hop in their step. Outside of an excellent performance by Moe Harkless, the Johnnies offense was stymied by the then 3-6 Detroit team at 60-year old Calihan Hall, taking bad shots and missing good ones.
"We could have attacked their zone defense better and we turned the ball over, so it wasn't one of our finer performances of the season," Steve Lavin said today, remarking on one of the games he watched from afar while recuperating from prostate cancer surgery.
|Detroit Titans at St. John's: Game Details
Mood Music: Ka,"Vessel"
(for uptempo): Timomatic, "Set it Off"
Tip-Off: 2:00 PM Eastern
Vs. Detroit Titans (1-0)
Location: Carnesecca Arena
TV: ESPN | Radio: ==none== | Online: ESPN3
The Titans were better than their record, it turns out.
UDM (short for Detroit-Mercy) finished the season 22-14, ending the season with a victory over Valparaiso for the Horizon League title and a solid game as a 15-seed against national runner-up Kansas in the NCAA Tournament.
Last year's Horizon League tournament champion comes to New York with a new look for ESPN's 24-hour tip-off marathon, and a return game with St. John's.
This year, St. John's has three big men, and a quartet of sophomore guards/ wings. But with a pair of players out, and D`Angelo Harrison starting the game on the bench, will seven be enough? Or will the Red Storm be worn down defending Detroit's shooters?
New Look Titans
For Detroit, gone are the twin towers LaMarcus Lowe (5 rebounds/ game, 2 blocks/game) and Eli Holman (60% FG, 7 reb/ game), who combined for a third of team's rebounds.
Also gone is the team's second leading scorer, Chase Simon (13.3 ppg), who dropped 20 on the Red Storm last year. Assistants Derek Thomas and Carlos Briggs have also left the program in the last two weeks, along with Athletic Director Keri Gaither.
The sideline tumult hasn't hurt the Titans on the court yet; they still have a veteran roster built around shooting and athleticism.
"We have don't have the presence that we've had in the past, so running is going to be important," coach Ray McCallum told the media after winning the Northern Michigan opener in Detroit. "Also [important is] the three-point shot... if you look at our starting lineup, we've got five guys capable of making threes."
All of the starters are willing to shoot the three, led by 6'2" Jason Calliste (34% from outside the arc last year, 10.2 ppg) as are the diminutive point guard P.J. Boutte and the 6'8" Evan Bruinsma off of the bench.
Preseason Horizon League Player of the Year Ray McCallum (6'2"/ 188 lbs) leads the way for father Ray McCallum's team (they have asked to no longer be called "Jr." and "Sr."). The younger McCallum scored 21 against the Red Storm and drew 8 foul shots in last year's game.
"I hope I get the first crack at him," said Sir`Dominic Pointer, hungry to prove his defensive chops. St. John's knows Ray McCallum needs to be limited, stifled, and frustrated.
Contending with size
Rebounding will be a big emphasis against the long and athletic St. John's front line. St. John's will play a much bigger front line than last year, with sturdy Christian Jones and bouncy JaKarr Sampson getting the starts as freshmen. Being solid on the glass - boxing out and chasing down long rebounds - will be a key against the small but scrappy Titans.
Coach McCallum's big men are slim but willing to run. Half of dunk artist Doug Anderson's field goal attempts last season were dunks; he is a quick hustle player at 6'6" that is a threat after Detroit misses. He can drive, given an open lane.
6'9" Nick Minnerath will likely start at center over the rawer junior college big men the team recruited. The Massachusetts native is a talented shooter, has solid hustle, and can shoot from the outside.
"Minnerath has done a great job coming back from the ACL tear," McCallum said on Friday night. "He didn't have the offensive game we're accustomed to [4 points on 2/6 shooting, 0/4 from outside the arc], but he really set the tone for us defensively. He threw his body around, he played tough, he was a presence, he went after some rebounds."
Against St. John's, according to coach McCallum, "rebounding will be a big emphasis... [as will] transition defense because we're going to play one of the most athletic teams in the Big East conference. We want to shoot the three ball, but we also want to get a few more post touches."
The Titans ability to get long rebounds will be key - as will St. John's ability to find spots to be aggressive.
Cast of characters + storylines
Five integral players. Five movie archetypes.
The mercurial talent trying to walk the straight and narrow - played by D`Angelo Harrison. If you've been near a St. John's game, you may have heard him letting off some choice words as he warms his shot and emotions up. Harrison is trying to tone it down, still working to meet Coach Lavin's expectations.
"I've basically been growing up these past few practices and being more of a leader on the team," Harrison said. "I can't let myself react to things and let my emotions get the best of me."
Harrison hasn't played much in the preseason, working through his passionate methods of communication. 3'Angelo, the returning player with the most scoring ability, will need to set the pace with good shoot/ pass decisions. For the young, inexperienced Red Storm, Harrison's ability to keep the rest of the team on an even-keel and not get flustered during a cold streak is also important.
The best player on the floor - played by Ray McCallum. McCallum spurned high majors like UCLA to play for his father, and last season, he showed high-major promise, scoring 15 points per game and averaged 4 assists and 4.5 rebounds. He is a potent transition threat who logs heavy minutes, can pass, and is built to be a mid-major star. He shot 55% inside the arc, better than the dunk artist Doug Anderson.
McCallum must be slowed in transition. Forcing him and the Titans to play a half-court game will play to St. John's strengths - defensive length and the ability to turn a mistake into a flashy score.
Sir`Dominic Pointer will get some time on McCallum, but Phil Greene and D`Angelo Harrison need to be defensively strong, making McCallum try to carry his whole squad's offense as he plays for scouts.
But will he find that playing against a mid-major team is much tougher than looking for shot against Sonoma State? JaKarr Sampson has the ability to put on a show against the occasionally defensively sloppy Titans.
Sampson will need to recognize when he has a chance to drive the lane instead of taking the jump shots in the middle of the Titan defensive zone.
The tough-guy, hard-luck redemption tale - played by Nick Minnerath. Minnerath struggled to get noticed on the college level after injuries and academic failures held him back. With Detroit, he has never been much of a rebounder, but 2011 saw him excel as a strong scorer inside (58% shooting) and out (38% shooting beyond the arc).
As he works his way back from an ACL tear, his shot remains sweet - and he'll be looking to emerge on national television as an athletic, skilled star with a nasty streak.
The sidekick/ x-factor - played by Doug Anderson*. If you haven't gotten the plot by now, the 6'6" tweener Anderson can dunk it. He is the Titans' senior energy player, hustling to loose balls, a junkyard dog with over-the-fence bounce. You'll notice #23's chin at the rim on offensive rebounding chances, or
He also forces steals and hits his free throws. Anderson's not the star, but he's the complementary player who attracts enough attention to allow the stars to go off.
(the full image from the icon above has Nurideen Lindsey in it.)
Juwan Howard is former Michigan star Juwan Howard's son.
The Detroit Titans have two Nigerian big men on the roster, just like St. John's with God`sGift Achiuwa and Chris Obekpa.
Keys to the Game
Smart basketball. Last season's game started with a spate of bad dribbling, poor shooting, and continued with porous extended pressure. It was a mess of unforced errors, and those errors were the difference in the game. The Titans will get back on defense, but there will be opportunities.
Businesslike maturity. St. John's has to execute their offense, mixing up aggressive probes against the defense with the acceptance of open outside shots to keep the Titans honest. Look for Amir Garrett to fill in the gaps for St. John's, taking shots and ensuring Detroit can't key in on two St. John's players.
Transition defense. Sir`Dominic Pointer will head the transition harassment, but his teammates must be cognizant that the greatest threat Detroit poses is from Ray McCallum's ability to find others (or himself) for plays.
Prediction: St. John's wins this one, 71-64, and look solid doing it against a Detroit team with no rim protectors.