After 9 games, trips to South Carolina and San Francisco, and five tip-offs on campus in Queens, the Red Storm bring the youth show to their other home, Madison Square Garden. The Johnnies will tip-off with a 6-3 record after the road loss to the San Francisco Dons, and the team knows they have much to improve on.
The Holiday Festival, now a one-day, doubleheader affair, brings St. John's face-to-face ith their rival from the Bronx, the Fordham Rams. The 1-9 Rams have found themselves with yet another tough start; this year, Tom Pecora's squad has faced very good teams - Harvard, Lehigh, Pittsburgh, but they have also lost to middling squads like Texas State and Manhattan.
Still, the Red Storm face a team that would love nothing better than to knock off their more famous rival on the City's biggest stage. Given the Johnnies' defensive lapses on the boards and defending the three-pointer, the Rams can certainly pull the upset if St. John's isn't diligent.
Mood music: Cloud Nothings, "Stay Useless" | Jay-Z, "New York State of Mind"
Tip Off: 7:00 PM Eastern
Vs. Fordham Rams (1-9; coach, Tom Pecora)
Location: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY (capacity: 19,979)
TV: MSG+ | Radio: Bloomberg 1130
Amir Garrett: "Our defense was exposed... we just have a lot of maturing to do as a team."
Steve Lavin's squad found themselves unable to keep the aggressive Dons out of the paint off of the dribble in San Francisco. St. John's know that was a problem, and will face a team that will certainly attack off the dribble.
The Rams, much like St. John's, look for their offense inside the arc. Fordham's attack hasn't been particularly sharp - the team shoots 45% inside the arc, 32% outside of the arc, don't draw fouls, don't rebound the offensive end well, and have generally struggled to find an offensive identity.
Star wing and no-regrets-shot-taker Chris Gaston is out with an injury suffered against Robert Morris. Replacing him have been freshman Ryan Rhoomes and sophomore Ryan Canty, who have been effective scoring at the rim when they get shots. Canty has put up better numbers in limited time, rebounding the ball well on both ends at 6'9" and 230 pounds. The two have combined to shoot 4/16 from the free throw line (25%).
Without Gaston, the Rams focus on a four guard attack. They start with with junior point guard Branden Frazier, who will have the ball in his hands a lot, looking to create. He' has been a very good passer on a bad team, assisting on 33% of his team's made baskets while on the floor.
Next to him the Rams have tried wing Jeffrey Short (a 35% three-point shooter who shoots a lower percentage inside the arc); Bryan Smith (a 39% three-point shooter) Jermaine Myers (a point guard with a decent shot). Short has had success with the mid-range jump shot. Smith can get hot and will be the x-factor in tonight's game.
St. John's is 70-30 in the Holiday Festival, which used to be a two-day tournament.
Cast of Characters (today's theme: holidays.)
The Fordham Rams will want to keep St. John's from getting out in transition and getting shots at the rim - in other words, getting off to a fast start. The Johnnies have to attack early, else they will face a zone that may not be intimidating, but will force the Johnnies away from their strengths inside the arc.
St. John's has to keep the upset-minded Rams from getting comfortable on the perimeter against the matchup zone. This is not the season for gifts to a weak team; in the upset two years ago, the poor-shooting Rams scored above their natural station, hitting 52% of their 3-point shots to mount a comeback (the Rams shot 33% from outside the arc that season). Bryan Smith and Jeff Short will be very cognizant of the history.
Too many fortunate bounces can create chaos for the Red Storm. The rebounding is still a work in progress, and playing against a four-guard lineup means that long rebounds will have to be tracked and battled for.
Prediction: Tom Pecora finds a way to frustrate St. John's, and tonight will be no different. Expect a game that is closer than perhaps it should be for stretches, but expect a St. John's win - and some kinks worked out. St. John's wins 81-66.