Tonight, St. John’s plays for the Legends Classic championship in Brooklyn against the VCU Rams at 7:30.
Last night’s game, a 82-79 win over Cal, was both nervy but also showed a level of poise that pulled the team through in a game where Cal got comfortable and smelled the upset.
“We got back on our heels a little bit because they were scoring and they got confident,” said Head Coach Chris Mullin, “but I was happy with the way we regrouped and got the win.”
“[Our] experience showed out,” head coach Chris Mullin said. “Our guys had the confidence they could win it and they went out and made the plays to do it.”
So St. John’s needs to come with energy and intensity as they face a team that is defensive mirror image of them in the Barclays Center if they want to finish as champions.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (4-0) vs VCU Rams (4-0)
Where: Barclays Center (17,732 capacity)
When: Tuesday, November 20, 7:30 PM
TV: ESPN2 (Bob Wischusen, Fran Fraschilla)
Audio: 970 WNYM | TuneIn Radio
Odds: St. John’s, -7.
Last meeting: St. John’s faced VCU once, falling in the Battle 4 Atlantis two years ago, 75-69.
Rankings & School Notes
Last season final KenPom Ranking: 144 | Current KenPom Ranking: 118
School size: 31,242 (24,051 undergraduates)
School is academically known for: Art & design, the Center for Sport Leadership (Villa 7 conference)
Notable alumni: Tom Robbins (author), David Baldacci (author), Chris Terry (author), Patch Adams (yes, like the movie), some members of GWAR, Boris Kodjoe (actor), Sam Beam (Iron & Wine singer)
Virginia Commonwealth, in the early going this season, has been a strong defensive squad, ramping up the defensive pressure, forcing turnovers on 20% or more of opponent possessions and holding foes below 61 points in each of their four wins. The Rams have suppressed three-point shooting attempts on defense and force deflections.
On offense, the Rams have been good at getting to the line —many of their players are both aggressive and powerfully-built — but so far, the team’s shooting has been streaky. The team’s best effort from outside the arc was connecting on 30% of their shots from deep against Gardner-Webb. Inside the arc, the dunks and free throws have been enough to keep the Rams ahead of their foes.
Last night, the Rams throttled the Temple Owls for much of the first half, but did not shoot well enough to gain separation. When the Owls calmed down (and didn’t miss shots wide left or watch the ball slip out of their hands), they came back to gain the lead before VCU bounced back for the win. It was a low-scoring game that cracked 50 points with under three minutes left.
For the Rams, Rice transfer Marcus Evans (#2), who St. John’s was also interested in, is coming into shape after recovering from some injuries. At 6’2”, 190, he is a powerful scorer on all three levels, though he earned his first start last night... and had six turnovers. He can force steals and has solid hands.
Isaac Vann (#23) and De’Riante Jenkins (#0) are a pair of long, older juniors (Vann is 23, Jenkins is 22) who bring a lot of experience. Neither has hit his stride hitting three point shots; they have combined to shoot 4/28 from beyond the arc. Both are good using their length to trap opposing ballhandlers and are willing to pass.
Marcus Santos-Silva (#14) is an undersized big who can hustle up and down the floor. He’ll be a tough matchup at 6’7”, 250. He can block shots, force steals, and in limited minutes was a strong defensive rebounder last season. This year, he has been quiet on the glass, but loud on rim-running dunks. Corey Douglas (#4) is a 6’8”, 215 pound forward whose only offense is at the rim after a pass.
Sean Mobley (#5) is a long shooter (6’8”, 225) who prefers to look for his offense as a catch-and-shoot player on the perimeter.
Malik Crowfield (#13) and Mike’l Simms (#1) both have been outside shooters this season playing major minutes, but waiting patiently for their offense. Crowfield has taken 16 of his 17 shots from deep, while Simms has taken 14 of his 21 from distance. Freshman Vince Williams (#10) is 6’6” and plays limited minutes, as does freshman guard PJ Byrd (#24), who is 6’1”.
Keys to the Game
Get back on defense. The Red Storm have been good in transition, but expect VCU to try and test the Johnnies by forcing turnovers and running out. In particular, St. John’s needs to watch for the bigs for VCU running to the rim with an angle to catch the ball. On defense, ballhawks like Shamorie Ponds have to make sure that the gambles for steals do not leave the defense out of shape.
Play with shooting poise. The Red Storm will need to recognize good shots quickly, maintain their balance, and make those shots to build a cushion against VCU’s fast, pressurized pace. The team has shot very well from distance, but will also need to identify good scoring opportunities inside the arc (and draw fouls).
Attack the glass. The Rams have rebounded poorly as a team, allowing second chance points. High-flyers Justin Simon and LJ Figueroa can, in spurts, take advantage — but not too often, since getting back on defense is a priority.
Yesterday, Tim — who writes our Three Takeaways — was in the stands, and noted how a fan said “those jump shots won’t fall like this forever.”
That fan was incorrect. The Cal jump shots kept falling, and it’s a reminder that sometimes, even when the defensive intensity is ramped up, the shots just... fall.
The worry is that VCU, facing a pressure that looks like what they might practice, could get comfortable, and some of those shooters start really draining shots.
Here’s saying St. John’s will play an occasionally sloppy but intense game. Johnnies win 79-70.