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Weekend report: the go-go Johnnies face offensive challenges

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Alexander and Champagnie have off games; Moore and Dunn step up but not quite enough

Isaih Moore gets a dunk in warmups while teammates watch
Brenden Willsch

Chuck Berry wrote a song some 60 years ago about a young lad who no one knew how good he played guitar until given a chance. Like Berry’s Johnny B. Goode, the Red Storm was picked to come in ninth or 10th in an 11th team Big East at the beginning of the year.

But with six or so* games to go, the Johnnies are tied for fifth place, and the Big East is realizing this team can play.

*(St. John’s has five games on the schedule plus at least one Big East Tournament game. The Red Storm are also missing a game against UConn, but the dates seem to not match up right now.)

So what has gone right?

Defense has tightened as opponents are scoring about 10 points less per game compared to the early season. Posh Alexander and Julian Champagnie have been outstanding, earning weekly awards and leading the way in wins (and losses). Others have filled in, making significant contributions on a game-by-game basis.

Isaih Moore has had big games as a scorer and has taken down his share of rebounds. As the season has progressed, he has cut back on his three point attempts and focused more on setting picks, making passes and scoring, mostly on dunks and with good hands. Moore is quick to react when an offensive opportunity arises.

Dylan Addae-Wasu has been seeing more and more court time. As a member of the second team, Addae-Wasu has cut back on his long range three-point shots, which he has demonstrated he can hit when open, and has focused more on attacking the basket though he is prone to offensive charges. He has good vision and usually is one of the team’s leaders in assists despite being on the second team.

Rasheem Dunn has developed a mid-range jump shot, which he can hit off the dribble in traffic. He is a good distributor, particularly to Moore and Champagnie as they cut to the basket in early offense. Dunn joins Alexander in pressuring opposing guards — at times full court and other times just as they cross over the half court line.

With Posh Alexander leading the defensive pressure and Rasheem Dunn hustling the ball up the court on all possessions, the Johnnies are sharing the ball, playing as a unit that understands each other, and are on the “go, go. go”, disrupting the rhythm of good offenses in the league.

Points of concern

Extra stuffing for Greg Williams
Brenden Willsch

Meanwhile, Greg Williams seems to be still working his way back after suffering a back injury midway through the season. It was about this time a year ago that Williams emerged as an offensive force combining accurate three point shooting with aggressive drives to the basket. Williams is also a stellar defender.

Vince Cole, Marcellus Earlington and Josh Roberts have each had games in which they contributed though their performances have not been as consistent as others.

During the past month, the Johnnies have often spurted out early in the first quarter when second teamers come into the game. Greg Williams Jr. would enter along with Earlington and Addae-Wusu.

Vince Cole, who has recently struggled, was usually one of the starters to be replaced along with Josh Roberts. Should Cole and Williams switch roles? Could Williams regain his shooting touch and driving skills with the starters while Cole could benefit by competing against second teamers on the opponents? Or is Vince Cole’s improved defense an asset more with the first team more than with the defensive quality of the second team?

Looking back on the Butler loss

Off night?

During the away game at Butler the Johnnies hit 4/17 three-point attempts, a 23.5% rate. Over the season the Johnnies are the fourth best three-point shooting team in the Big East at 35.7%.

Was it Butler’s defense that made the difference or just an off shooting night?

Julian Champagnie’s attacking style was stifled, as he found threes harder to connect on and found himself with five uncharacteristic turnovers. Posh Alexander was not scoring and Isaih Moore’s offensive explosion in the first half was controlled by Butler’s defensive strategies after halftime.

Despite these issues the Red Storm hung in during an up and down second half and, for want of controlling an inbounds pass with 10 seconds to play, would have come away as victors. This was against a Butler team with a winning home record which included a recent home win against 19th ranked Creighton.

Posh in foul trouble

Brenden Willsch

Posh Alexander was on the bench for 12 minutes and his foul trouble took away some of his aggressiveness on defense. As a result, Red Storm had fewer offensive opportunities on turnovers; Posh did not have as many of his high-pressure “taking it personally” steals of the opposing point guard.

The Johnnies had to score the hard way, in the half-court game. With long-range shooting accuracy down, the Red Storm ran a motion offense with guards and wings cutting through the paint and back out looking for openings and feeds from teammates. Butler read the actions well, and opportunities were few.

Posh Alexander started well. On the Johnnies first possession he was dribbling left of the circle when Josh Roberts came forward to set a pick. Drawing his defender forward with him, the paint was open for Alexander to attack laying the ball in.

It never happened again. Although Alexander did score twice after Johnnies steals, the driving lanes did not open for him and he appeared frustrated as the game went on. He attacked the basket occasionally but missed short shots and layups he usually makes.

Alexander’s usual ability to hit an open three found few opportunities as Butler defenders seemed to focus on him and Champagnie, in essence, daring the other Johnnies to step up. Moore in the first half and Dunn in the second half stepped up. Others did not.

Missing inside threats?

Moore played well in both halves, not only scoring but setting screens and feeding teammates. However, the lack of a low-post presence for St. John’s was glaring — most notably on a play where Moore was fed the ball four feet from the basket on the right side. It was one on one for Moore but, with his back to the basket, he did not attack but almost immediately passed out to Dylan Addae-Wusu 25 feet from the basket.

The Johnnies have no one comfortable playing this position. Perhaps Julian Champagnie has the offensive moves to take advantage of such a situation but, being the second highest three-point shooter on the team (42.5 percent), and a focus of offensive attention, it would be helpful to have another player who can makes plays at the basket in half court sets.

With no significant inside threat teams can pressure the Johnnies all over the half court set. In fact, the only successful post up was by six foot tall Posh Anderson, who took a pass in the paint and scored over the Bulldog guarding him. After succeeding, Alexander tried again to post up around the foul line, but Butler defended against it.

Conclusion

Isaih Moore and Julian Champagnie greet each other at the sideline
Brenden Willsch

So there are five games to go on the schedule, four at home.

The Johnnies have played well on the road in the Big East and and well at home, but every Big East game down the stretch will be a challenge, even DePaul. The Johnnies need someone to step up to aid Champagnie and Alexander on offense — with possibilities like Dunn, Williams and Moore the most likely.

The Johnnies will make adjustments in the “second time around games”, as will opponents. We hope the coaching staff will develop a post game that can be implemented at critical times. Opponents will be adapting to the Johnnies and the Red Storm will have to adapt too.

Prediction: Jonnies win three out of five to complete the series 16-10.

Sing it out with Chuck

Go … go Johnnies go, well go

Go Johnnies go, well go

Go Johnnies go, well go

Go Johnnies go well

go go go go go Johnnies be good.