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St. John's vs Marquette pregame: Johnnies try to get right in the regular season finale

A look at the Johnnies without Sir`Dominic Pointer, the second-half woes, and more, in the Rumble preview.

Chris Obekpa and the Johnnies will have a handful of Davante Gardner to deal with.
Chris Obekpa and the Johnnies will have a handful of Davante Gardner to deal with.

On an afternoon where St. John's University will be welcoming members of the New York City Police, Fire, and Sanitation departments, as well as the NYC Office of Emergency Management to the men's basketball game as honored heroes for "First Responders Day," the Red Storm could use a few unsung heroes to rescue the team on the floor.

St. John's heads into the regular season finale having lost their last three games - and six of their last eight - while also figuring out which players are going to be on the floor.

Game Information

Tip Off: 2:00 PM Eastern
Vs. #15/#17 Marquette Golden Eagles
(22-7, 13-4 Big East; coach, Buzz Williams)
Madison Square Garden (capacity: 19,979)
TV: ESPN | ESPN3 | Radio: Bloomberg 1130
Announcers: Len Elmore & Mike Patrick

Sir`Dominic Pointer "lost his cool," in his words, at the end of a thrashing by Notre Dame - and won't be available for tomorrow's game, serving a one-game suspension for fighting during a game (Amir Garrett, who left the bench to break up the scuffle, will be available for action).

With D`Angelo Harrison removed from the team while he figures out how to channel his passion and personality in positive ways, St. John's is without two of their most integral players with the ferocious Marquette Golden Eagles coming to town.

Marquette, meanwhile, come to New York looking to lock down their first share of a conference title since 2003, when they were in Conference USA- and their third EVER in their history. Know that Buzz Williams and his group will come out looking to notch their place in history with their first Big East title.

Can the Red Storm, missing two of their best playmakers, defend and deflect the Golden Eagles long enough to pull off the upset in the last true home game of the season?

Scouting St. John's | Without Sir`Dom... | Scouting Marquette | Keys to the Game + Prediction

Mood music:
For your macking on some lady or fella instead of watching the game mood: Miguel f/ J. Cole, "All I Want Is You"
For your indie pop domestic disturbance mood: Passion Pit, "Carried Away"

Stormy weather

St. John's has struggled in the last three games with poor second halves, but the poor second half issue has been going on for a month.

Let's use the concept of defensive efficiency to illustrate.

[For the uninitiated: Teams have a finite number of possessions in a game; some games have more, some games have less. But a constant is how efficient a team is with those possessions - how many points they score, on average, per each possession. 1 point per possession is considered average play for an offense; 1.1 points per possession with league play is stellar.

So keeping an opponent below 1 point per possession is ideal; with an average offense, a team can win many games if the team is keeping the opponent below 1 point per possession. Per game, the figures vary depending on hot shooting or poor shooting.

Make sense?]

St. John's has been consistently giving up over a point per possession to the opponent in the last seven games, turning in better first halves and worse second halves, on a per-possession basis.

1st half Defense
2nd half Defense
Vs Connecticut
At Syracuse
At Louisville
Vs South Florida
Vs Pittsburgh
At Providence
At Notre Dame

Even in the wins, St. John's finds themselves unable to maintain the same defensive effectiveness. Is it playing from behind? Maybe not - the Johnnies held leads in both of their wins and against Providence. Is it the offensive inefficiency? Maybe not - the team had better scoring second halves than firsts against Connecticut, Syracuse, Louisville, and Providence.

Digging deeper, the Johnnies are allowing a higher percentage of shots to be taken outside of the arc in the second half of these games (36% of shots vs 32% of shots) and allowing a far higher success rate. The Johnnies hold opponents to 26% on threes in the first half, but that number balloons to just under 47% shooting outside of the arc in the second stanza.

(If you're wondering, teams are shooting slightly better at the rim in second halves - 55% opposed to 52% in the first half, as well. Less of a significant difference than the three-point disparity.)

Bonus no-Sir`Dom note

Sir`Dominic Pointer has been defending hard and rebounding. He's grabbed 24% or more of available defensive rebounds, posting gaudy numbers of 10, 8, 10, and 12 rebounds in his last four games.

He has averaged 9.5 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists in his last four games. He bothers shots at the rim, and plays with a fire that is unrivaled at times on the floor.

Who will pick up that slack?

Scouting Marquette

Marquette's run things in conference play with the league's best offense and a good-enough defense that has made some nice strides in recent weeks. The Golden Eagles start by being the league's best attack inside the paint, connecting on 54% of their two-pointers, while rebounding their own misses (grabbing around 38% of their misses in Big East play, fourth in the league) and drawing bunches of fouls with good ball movement.

A big part, pun intended, is the 6'8", 290 pound Davante Gardner. His minutes might be limited but is a monster in the paint that the Red Storm will struggle to deal with. JaKarr Sampson and Chris Obekpa lack the width to body him straight up; they will need to get position early and keep him from establishing deep in the paint. Chris Otule may be better known for his shot-blocking, but he too can score with efficiency.

Slashing Vander Blue and point guard Junior Cadougan join to scoring party, with freshman Steve Taylor coming on strong in recent weeks.

Just as important to the Golden Eagles is their toughness and togetherness.

Speaking about the Rutgers game - where they won in the second half despite being down by as much as 12 points, Buzz Williams said, "for 36 minutes, they were winning the game. It says a lot about the character of our coaches and our players to be able to hang in there, to be in a position to not just go away."

The Golden Eagles have struggled in first halves. But their second halves have been homages to toughness and fight, the kind of fight Steve Lavin hopes to get from his team tomorrow - and next year, as well.

Where the Golden Eagles struggle at times is with the outside shot. Marquette shoots 28% on perimeter jumpers, and work hard to win without them. St. John's is similarly poor from distance; but the Golden Eagles mitigate their weakness by getting to the free throw line and shooting 73% in those situations.

Buzz Williams' team also allows 36% shooting from beyond the arc - but can the Red Storm exploit those holes? The Johnnies shoot 25% from distance and are without two of their best shooters... who shot 24% (Harrison) and 29% (Pointer) from distance in their last four games.

Keys to the Game aka honoring the City's Emergency Services

Weather the... well, Storm

Marquette has a purpose. But St. John's has a chance to once more send the raucous home crowd happy - and this crowd will have the inspiring heroes who have kept the city running through disasters. If there was ever a time to put on for the city, this would be it against a Marquette team that is just as athletic, but may be overly hyped up to make history.

Communications nerve center

This game is a chance for Jamal Branch to show - assuming he is healthy - how integral he should be for the team. Without traffic cop Sir`Dominic Pointer and bail-out shooter D`Angelo Harrison, Branch has to lead the attack, getting JaKarr Sampson into favorable situations and locating the few remaining weapons, like Amir Garrett.

Put out the fire

Marquette, when struggling, will work hard to get to the line and pound the ball inside. Chris Obekpa and Christian Jones need to battle the Marquette forwards, while remaining vigilant for drives by Trent Lockett and Jamil Wilson.

Prediction: Valiant effort in a ragged game, but the result will be much the same, 67-60 Marquette.

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