Steve Lavin brings his team to San Francisco on the night where his father, "Cap" Lavin, will be honored along with the 1949 NIT Champion and 1955-56 NCAA Champion San Francisco Dons of the West Coast Conference. It'll be a special, emotional night... much like Detroit's unveiling of Dick Vitale court was last December.
Coach Lavin is brave for bringing his team into challenging road environments, where the team will have to acclimate to time changes while matching the energy of a lower-conference team looking to honor their past with a year-defining upset. St. John's steps into what could be a buzzsaw - and that's not accounting for the quality of the San Francisco squad.
The Dons are 4-1 with only a loss to Stanford, have quality players in the post and a talented UCLA transfer on the wing. A bit like WCC's St. Mary's, the team St. John's traveled to play to open Steve Lavin's tenure, San Francisco is mature, tough, and looking to make a late-night name for themselves.
This game could be trouble.
Mood music: The Coup, "Me and Jesus the Pimp in a '79 Granada Last Night" | Quicksilver Messenger Service, "Pride of Man"
Tip Off: 10:00 PM Eastern
Vs. San Francisco Dons (4-1; coach, Rex Walters)
Location: War Memorial Coliseum, San Francisco, CA (capacity: 4,500)
TV: SNY | ESPN3 | Radio: Bloomberg 1130
What's a Don?
San Francisco's teams were originally known as the "Grey Fog." The "Don" was chosen in the 20s, and the term is a courtesy title before the name of a man in Spain/ important or noble person in Italy. Or, you know, the head of an organized crime family.
Tread lightly around the Don.
Scouting the Red Storm
Chris Obekpa: "We were worried about our trip [to San Francisco], and seemed to forget about today's game [vs NJIT]."
The team's activities - working in a food bank, seeing Alcatraz, getting to tour the facilities of the San Francisco Giants and receive a talk from pitcher Jeremy Affeldt - are team-building opportunities, a chance to forget about the many ways that St. John's almost gave a game to NJIT on Saturday. It was the ultimate in trap game for a team that isn't yet good enough to mail in a non-conference performance and win comfortably.
Even in a game rife with mistakes, constants remain. D`Angelo Harrison might have scoring streaks and lulls, but it's very hard to keep him under 20 points. JaKarr Sampson has become a constant as a freshman, using his athleticism to smoothly get his shot off. The entire Red Storm team will test opponents in transition. And Chris Obekpa is the "Oh no" force on the block.
Needed still are steady performances from the scorer Phil Greene IV, who, at his best, fills the box score. The interior needs a presence now that Christian Jones has fallen out of favor (not producing much in the box score). The rebounding will be a year-long issue, and it seems that outside shooting will be as well.
Scouting the Dons
Over the summer, Rex Walters' SF Dons lost six players to transfer, two to graduation, and has a guard who is still recovering from injury. So returning one starter, a player who was the best rebounder on the team but didn't see time, a Pac-12 transfer, and playing five freshmen and two sophomores, the Dons have burst out to a 4-1 record with wins over solid teams in Montana and Columbia and a loss to Stanford.
Of course they have.
Rex Walters' team is organized, patient, and ordered on offense and defense. The three best players remain on the floor for much of the game - forward Cole Dickerson, wing De`end Parker, and point guard Cody Doolin.
Doolin is a 6'2" junior who looks shaky at times, but has been effective for the Dons, assisting on a sterling 28% of his team's shots (5.6 assists/ game) while on the floor. Opponents last year looked to make him a scorer vs a distributor to disrupt the Dons.
Parker (19 points per game) is a UCLA transfer who grew up two blocks away from the campus. De`end is a 6'6" wing who can create shots; he has the highest usage rate on the team and is shooting 12/17 from outside the three-point line. His individual defense is also very good. Tim Derksen (4/10) and Avry Holmes (6/15) have also scorched the nets.
Cole Dickerson, the reigning West Coast Conference Player of the Week, is currently has the highest rebound average in the country at 15 rebounds per game. He can score inside; but when he draws fouls, he only shoots 56% from the free throw line. He has shot 5/12 from beyond the arc, and has range inside the arc.
Small sample size and quality of opponents makes one wonder if the Dons' numbers will hold up against the likes of St. John's. The athleticism of the San Francisco squad is decent, especially with De`end Parker on the floor. But the Dons don't force many steals or block many shots, the tell-tale signs of a team's athleticism.
The Dons' strength is in not allowing transition baskets, denying easy penetration, and doubling and trapping on the perimeter and push opponents away from the three-point line. Will they play the same way against high-major athleticism?
- The team's Director of Player development is Dwayne Polee - the St. John's transfer's father.
- Penn State transfer Matt Glover is also on the roster. No relation to Anthony Glover.
- The Dons are the only West Coast Conference team to have earned a #1 ranking in basketball - last in 1977, with Bill Cartwright on the roster. But self-imposed sanctions for monetary payments and academic cheating caused USF to shutter the program for four years.
- St. John's will host a return game against the Dons next fall in New York.
Cast of Characters (today's theme: hyperbole.)
The best rebounding team in college ball?!
Sir`Dominic Pointer, D`Angelo Harrison and JaKarr Sampson have to make the game chaotic, putting the Dons on their defensive heels with smart and aggressive shots while not turning the ball over. SF has not faced a team with this kind of athleticism yet this season. St. John's defensive pressure could also be a factor against the point guard Doolin (TO rate: 20% of possessions) and forward Dickerson (TO rate: 22% of possessions).
The three is the ultimate equalizer!
De`End Parker, Cole Dickerson, Avry Holmes, and Tim Derksen shoot over 40% from beyond the arc. With the holes in the St. John's zone, it wouldn't be a surprise to see them play man-to man, especially in the case of a slow start. Letting the three-point shooters of this team get open is the kiss of death on the road.
The most intimidating trio in the nation!
Chris Obekpa, JaKarr Sampson, Felix Balamou, and Sir`Dominic Pointer have made altering shots an art with emphatic blocks. The length on the Johnnies roster help the team to be a top-5 shot-blocking team. Can this group can crush the Dons' two-point shooting (49.7% this season)?
X-Factor: The easiest shots on the floor!
There is a solid chance to that game will be close... and both teams have had struggles shooting free throws. St. John's is shooting 61.9% on the season. San Francisco is shooting 63.2%.
Prediction: St. John's has a 50/ 50 chance to win per ken Pomeroy's site, and the Dons are favored by 3.5 points.
It's late night, far from home, not much friends or family for a St. John's team that often starts slowly. Unless they can come out on fire and establish a lead, I think the team picks up their third loss. San Francisco wins 68-64.