The fact that St. John’s and Duke still meet up in a mid-season game is a great showcase for college hoops — especially since St. John’s has a competent team again.
The fun part of this game is that it’s a near no-lose situation for St. John’s, barring injury. If they get smacked on the road in Cameron Indoor, that’s what people would expect. But a strong performance will raise eyebrows. And a win?
Nationally, people still talk about that win last year, at HOME. People talk about the win in 2003.
It’s a big deal.
But Duke’s players and staff who were there last season will have a long memory of that bitter loss. And at home, with the Cameron Indoor crowd ready to cheer on their future pros? Expect a strong and physical performance from Duke, a squad that has won 146 consecutive non-conference games at home.
The last time the Blue Devils lost was in 2000 to... Bootsy Thornton and St. John’s.
There is a legacy here for this team to try and achieve. Can St. John’s counter that attack and pull off a season-defining upset win on the road?
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (16-5) vs #2 Duke Blue Devils (18-2)
Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, NC (9,314)
When: Saturday, February 2, 12:00 PM
TV: ESPN | WatchESPN
Audio: 570 WMCA AM | TuneIn Radio
Odds: Duke, TBD
For the bettors, you can bet on whether Zion Williamson will score more points + rebounds than Tom Brady will have pass completions. Obviously, someone’s bored and I would definitely take the over on Zion.
Rankings & School Notes
Last season final KenPom Ranking: 3 | Current KenPom Ranking: 2
School size: 16,294 (6,692 undergraduates)
School is academically known for: Business, policy, math, economics, law, engineering, biomedical research
Notable alumni: Charlie Rose (journalist), Tucker Max (author), Richard Nixon (law school), Stephen Miller (advisor to current President), Ken Starr (law school, Independent counsel, Whitewater; former Baylor University President), Ron Paul (medical school, Presidential candidate), Rand Paul (medical school, Senator from KY), Andrew McCabe (acting head of FBI), Zephyr Teachout (law school, one-time lawyer, gubernatorial candidate), Anne Tyler (author), William Styron (author), Lisa Borders (former WNBA president), Eric Greitens (former Gov of Missouri), Andrew Giuliani (son of former NYC mayor, current US administration), Chad Dickerson (ETSY CEO), Tim Cook (MBA, Apple CEO), Aubrey McClendon (Chesapeake Energy CEO), Seth Davis (basketball journalist), Susan Herbst (UConn president), Michelle Charlesworth (anchor, ABC-NY), (Ken Jeong (actor), Alexi Murdoch (musician), Martin Kratt (one of the Wild Kratts brothers), Retta (actress, Parks & Recreation), Rene Echevarria (producer, the 4400, Star Trek)
Duke, sporting three players who could legitimately be the #1 pick in the NBA draft, has a deep and dynamic roster that is built to showcase the unique one-and-done talents.
Duke is very good in most facets of the game. The team’s defense in the man-to-man is hard to get around, with impressive length, quickness enough not to foul and a tall roster at most positions. Their quickness is enough for a number of bigs to generate steals — and with the athletes on the court, those steals turn into points in a hurry.
On defense, the Blue Devils do a strong job of making opponents create and play an individual game; their length and anticipation blows up set plays and makes passes hard to complete.
In the half court, though still very effective, the Blue Devils have shown some flaws.
But for all the crooked scores, leaning on their big three players has meant that dunks, transition points and drives are easy. But when forced to shoot from the perimeter, the Dukies have struggled at times. Two players shoot 40% in conference play from beyond the arc, and the team as a whole has shot 29% from deep.
The free throw shooting has been lacking as well.
But Duke is quick enough and creates enough stops that they make this work.
And at home, with the Cameron Crazies within an arms reach, letting out their academic stress anxieties on opposing players while arhythmically gyrating, is a real boon to the difficulty of concentrating enough to defeat Duke (and the Duke mystique).
The headliner is Zion Williamson (#1), who is a defensive end playing basketball. He is huge (6’7”, 285 pounds), stronger than most players you have seen in your lifetime, and unnaturally quick for his size. He’s shooting 40% from deep in ACC play, but 30% on the season. He dunks, he gets to the line, he blocks shots, he grabs steals, he rebounds both ends, he doesn’t turn the ball over often, and even passes on occasion. He’ll make a great Knick [hashtag, #StopTryinForZion]. I’m sure he can have a bad game, but I haven’t seen it.
The freshman wings RJ Barrett (#5) — whose dad, Rowan Barrett, starred for St. John’s, graduating in 1996 — and Cam Reddish (#2) are also high-scoring guards.
Barrett, from Mississauga like so many transplanted people of Jamaican heritage, takes the highest percentage of shots on the team, and will dribble and pull up from all kinds of places. When the 6’7” lefty guard is on, he’s getting to the rim and making jumpers. But he shoots 32% from deep and takes a lot of mid-range jumpers — not drawing fouls as someone of his athletic ability might. He passes very well and can rebound on defense.
Reddish, a 6’8” wing, gets a lot of steals, and is blessed with athleticism. Supposedly a very good shooter, he has not shot consistently well in college yet, taking most of his shots from deep despite shooting 29% on threes in ACC play. He’s shooting 33% inside the arc in the ACC, so maybe going deep is the right play. When he’s on, he’s hard to score against.
When he’s off, the Blue Devils have a number of talented wings to park in the corner and shoot the ball. The 6’7” Jack White (#41, not the White Stripes guy) is a solid rebounder who blocks shots and will shoot from deep, even if he’s shot 31% from outside the arc so far this season.
Alex O’Connell (#15)is a 6’6” wing who is shooting 38% from deep. His turnover rate is a little high, given his minutes, but he’s skilled and a decent athlete.
One of the most important Duke players is freshman point guard Tre Jones (#3). At 6’2” and not a perimeter shooter (he’s connected on 28% of his threes, taking less than a quarter of his shots from deep), the Minnesota-bred guard is nonetheless cat-quick, forcing steals while being a high-efficiency/ low-turnover passer. Jordan Goldwire (#14) plays some minutes at guard as well.
Underrated Dukies Marques Bolden (#20) and Javin DeLaurier (#12) provide bursts of offensive rebounding and post scoring off of passes. Bolden is shooting 61% inside the arc (67% at the rim when NOT dunking) and DeLaurier is shooting 84% inside the arc (86% when not dunking).
Scouting notes from Our Syracuse Friends
Duke has lost two games — one to Gonzaga, and an overtime game game to Syracuse which might be one of the most exciting games of the season (despite the two teams playing).
Syracuse more or less had a perfect storm of events come together when it beat Duke. The stars just sort of aligned which allowed it to take down the Blue Devils inside of Cameron and it still took overtime to do it.
First, I think that if there ever were a team designed to beat the current makeup of Duke, it’s Syracuse. What I mean by that is, Jim Boeheim plays an unconventional style with the 2-3 zone and he has the tallest team in the country. The length in the zone was able to cut into Duke’s athleticism slightly, and the zone forced a ton of outside shots. In order to beat Duke you have to turn Zion and RJ into shooters and keep them off the glass and mitigate them from driving/attacking the rim.
Secondly, Syracuse fans won’t like me for saying this but Cam Reddish was out and Tre Jones left the game early with an injury. Credit to the Orange for winning the game, but that changed the makeup as Jones is a dog defensively and Reddish is the team’s best shooter, which was bound to help the team’s horrid shooting that night.
I think it’s also important to note that Tyus Battle gave Jack White a lot of trouble — White simply could not check Battle and embarrassed him a few times. Battle had 32 points in the game, including a few clutch buckets late. Frank Howard also had success in the second half when Alex O’Connell was on him. I’m not sure who will be guarding Shamorie in this game, but he has to go to work here. That’s obvious, but he has to take advantage if one of those two guys guard him.
Pretty sure Chris Mullin doesn’t have a son on his St. John’s team, but it helps when the head coach has his own kin gets loose for banked-in 3s (read: Buddy Boeheim). It also helps your cause to have a 180lb Slovakian willing to take a charge from a Mack truck (hello, Marek Dolezaj). Oh, and be sure to bury an 80-foot, 3-point heave just before the half (see: Elijah Hughes). Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
Keys to the Game
Hero ball. St. John’s has to be quick and decisive with the ball, sharing without oversharing, and making sure that Shamorie Ponds gets touches early. Those touches will, hopefully, lead to enough passes that Duke will need to key in on other players (such as the slashing Justin Simon or the shooting Marvin Clark II) and give Ponds room to operate. Its a fun game — it means little to the standings and it’s a chance for the players with pro prospects, like Ponds and Mustapha Heron, to ball out against each other.
Half court ball. In transition, Duke is a great offensive team. They will get some chances; but the Red Storm have to make sure to not give up live ball turnovers, to try not to take shots while the team is unbalanced, and to be diligent and mistake free when getting back in transition. Making Duke’s players actually slow down and/ or change direction will be key after misses and makes. Make them shoot.
Minimize offensive rebounds. Duke is going to get some offensive boards. St. john’s needs to anticipate those chances and get in the way, perhaps drawing some [painful] offensive fouls along the way. The Red Storm, behind LJ Figueroa and the emerging Sedee Keita, have been fighters on the glass despite their size.
St. John’s makes a game of it. But the talent disparity looms large late as the Johnnies get tired and allow run outs. 91-80, Duke win.