Coming into Atlantis, many fans had low expectations for St. John’s, especially after dropping a winnable game at Minnesota.
St. John’s did a fantastic job playing a discrete role, surprisingly giving a superior Michigan State all they could handle for 35 minutes.
Contests like the one against Michigan State show how much improvement has been made in one year. In last season’s Maui Invitational opener the Johnnies lost to Vanderbilt by a 92-55 score.
Regardless, sitting at that cusp of competitiveness and consistent success is very frustrating for any program. St. John’s sits in basketball purgatory, waiting to turn experience and close losses into narrow victories.
Chris Mullin’s team will get another shot at stealing a solid win in the Bahamas. This time it comes against the VCU Rams on Thanksgiving.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (2-2) versus VCU Rams (3-1)
What: Battle 4 Atlantis Consolation Round
Where: Imperial Arena, Paradise Island, Bahamas
When: Thursday, November 24th, 7:00 PM ET
TV: AXS; channel guide can be found by clicking here. For those that don’t have AXS...
@yelbeeez if anyone needs a way to watch. Sign up for the slingtv free 7 day trial and they carry axs— Christopher Brache (@9_c_j_b_1) November 23, 2016
Audio: St. John’s TV All-Access will provide free audio for the contest. That station can be found by clicking here. Also live game audio can be found on 570 WMCA.
Twitter: Follow @rumbleSBN and @StJohnsBBall for updates.
Fun Fact: VCU’s first ever NCAA Tournament appearance came in 1980. They were a 12 seed in the East Region that season.
VCU will forever be known for their appearance in the 2011 Final Four. Shaka Smart and his havoc defense transformed this small Virginia school from an afterthought into a widely respected basketball program.
Following the departure of Shaka Smart, buzz around VCU has died down. Don’t be mistaken, coach Will Wade - an assistant under Smart at VCU - has kept the Rams relevant. This season VCU will attempt to reach their 7th consecutive NCAA Tournament.
That goal is not far out of their grasp, as they should once again be near the top of Atlantic 10 standings.
VCU currently is ranked 39th by KenPom, as opposed to 92nd for the Johnnies.
One major strong suit for the Rams is their stellar defense. KenPom rates their defense as the 21st most efficient in college basketball. VCU does a formidable job forcing turnovers and making opponents shot low percentage shots.
As for playmakers, senior guard JeQuan Lewis is a major headache for Rams’ opponents. The Tennessee native is coming off a junior year where he averaged per game about 12 points and 5 assists, while shooting 47% from the field.
Against Baylor in the Battle 4 Atlantis First Round, Lewis had his best game of the season. He dropped 21 points on Baylor, adding 5 assists and 3 steals while shooting 55% from the field.
Although Lewis is the main ball handler, VCU often looks to junior Jonathan Williams to mediate the Rams backcourt. Williams has posed no threat as an offensive player during his VCU career. Regardless, Williams is a smart player who loves assisting his teammates.
Down on the low block, senior forward Ahmed Hamdy-Mohamed is a big contributor. Hamdy-Mohamed, a native of Egypt, has been heavily used this season. Although a small sample size, he is averaging almost 8 points per game along with 5 rebounds and a 70% field goal percentage.
What to watch
Rebound: Yesterday, the Johnnies secured a total of 33 rebounds, 7 coming on the offensive end. Michigan State on the other hand grabbed 53 rebounds, 12 offensive.
That can not happen if St. John’s is going to upset VCU.
Generally, the Rams secure missed shots from the opposition, but rarely rack up offensive rebounds.
Again, St. John’s needs to cut down on rebounding discrepancies. Players like Yankuba Sima and Tariq Owens must become of a factor on the glass, combining for a mere six rebounds against Michigan State.
Start making shots again: St. John’s was propelled in their first two contests by superb shooting performances. Against Bethune-Cookman and Binghamton, the Johnnies shot a combined 53% from the field. In these last two games against Minnesota and Michigan State, that number dropped to 35%.
VCU is a great defensive team, but St. John’s still needs to find ways to create open and good looks. Most importantly, they must consistently convert those looks when they appear.
We got enough looks but we didn't knock any down.” Coach Chris Mullin told reporters after a contest against Michigan State. “When you shoot 30 percent, you're not going to win a game."
Finishing: The Johnnies had a golden opportunity to win a program shifting game against Michigan State. Deep into the second-half St. John’s was within two points of the almighty Spartans. From there they proceeded to go on an extended scoring drought, allowing Michigan State to waltz out of the Imperial ballroom a victor.
If St. John’s were to happen to have a chance late in the second-half, they need to find a way to capitalize and power themselves through the finish line. All good teams have a finishing quality about them that makes them so dangerous, St. John’s needs to find that characteristic.
St. John’s very well could give VCU a serious challenge, and possibly be in a situation to win late. In that case, advantage plays to VCU because of experience. Don’t bank on St. John’s closing out a game triumphantly until you witness it.
Final Prediction: 82-74 VCU