Saturday, September 5, 2009

Oh Canada! St. John's North Country Tour

A Very Quick Preview
The NCAA banned these excursions as this fall, St. John's, having signed the contract to play before the ban, is exempt. The Johnnies may be one of the last universities to head North to get an early start on season with an extended exhibition. St. John's is scheduled to play a pair of "double headers" with 4 CIS university squads, McGill University, University of Quebec at Montreal, Carleton University and Ottawa University, over a two day period. Though technically these games are not double headers (St. John's will travel from McGill to UQAM's gym on Saturday, and from Carlton's facility to Ottawa's on Sunday), the schedule is fairly strenuous, and the staff will be forced by circumstances, to reach deep into the bench to keep pace. Between the two days, Sunday's schedule should be the more challenging, as the Johnnies face the Carleton University Ravens, winners of the CIS Championship in 6 of the last 7 seasons. The CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sports) is the Canadian counterpart to the NCAA, and like the NCAA, they sponsor a nationwide post season tournament to determine a "national" champion. Carleton's coach, Dave Smart, has coached the Canadian National team for a number of years, leading them in a number of international competitions. The Ravens have been a regular stop for high-major teams heading North for the Labor Day Weekend, Coach Smart's squad has faced Villanova and Louisville out of the Big East in prior tours, defeating Alabama and playing Illinois of the Big Ten very closely.

The University of Ottawa Gee Gees are most likely the second most difficult stop on the tour. The Gee Gees finished 2nd in their conference (the OUA - East Division...not sure about the OUA abbreviation) to Carleton last season, and placed 5th in the CIS Tournament. The Johnnies will face the Gee Gees about 6 hours (and a cross town trip) after they complete their game with Carleton. The University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM) Citadins (roughly translated, "townies" or "urbans") finished with an 8-8 record in their conference last season (the Quebec Conference), but did not compete in the CIS Tournament. McGill finished in a last place tie in the Quebec Conference in 2009, though the Redmen did have 17-15 record overall.

There is no reliable way to compare teams from the two organizations, but in the past Carleton has been described as a mid-major level program (RPI in the 70-110 range?), while the others scale down accordingly.

The Red Storm Beats...the Redmen?!
In an unusual case of nom deja vu (no pun intended...ok, maybe), the Red Storm defeated the McGill University Redmen, 90-55, this afternoon in Montreal. The game was competitive for the first quarter as the Redmen led the Red Storm 20-12, but St. John's turned on the burners in the second quarter to take a 52-26 lead into the locker room at the half. McGill never got back into it -- walk-on Kevin Clark was the last of 12 Red Storm players to whom the staff allocated minutes. McGill's website posted a recap of the game. Anthony Mason did not make the trip, the staff is playing it safe after he tweaked a hamstring in Thursdays practice. Only Dele Coker did not see action. Processing the box score (.pdf format) yielded these efficiency stats for the teams...

St. John's84.2107.

The pace, 84.2, tags this as an exhibition game. Among the high-majors, only North Carolina (and a few others) play routinely for that many possessions. Some of the good news...
1. The Red Storm logged an offensive rating of 107.0, one of the best offensive performances they have had in Coach Roberts' tenure. Check the PPWS -- at 1.21 the Johnnies were efficient from the floor, but also finished at the line when they were fouled.
2. Turnovers (TOV) and field goal efficiency (eFG%) showed improvement over last season.
3. Limiting McGill to an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 65.4 is strong. It suggests that St. John's defended the shot well (indeed, note the Redmen's eFG% -- 42.1 is borderline stymied), provided very few 2nd chance opportunities (OR% of 9.4 is crushing on the defensive boards), and forced an extraordinarily high number of turnovers (TOV -- at 33.3 means McGill lost 1 in 3 possessions, most likely without getting a shot off).

A few areas of concern for the staff might include an offensive rebound rate of 35.7 and an assist rate of 23.7. In Big East snagging 35.7% of their misses would be very good, but given the Red Storm's absolute control of the defensive boards, I would have expected something over 40%, most likely in the range of 45-55. Strong shooting (except 3 pointers) may account for level of offensive rebounding. A "good" assist rate tends to depend on the type of offense the staff implements. Traditional half court sets and many (but not all) motion-oriented offenses rely on pick and roll, penetration and kick-out, or screens with catch-and-shoot plays. Frankly I am not familiar with the offense Coach Roberts runs. But whatever it is, it is not designed to have players shooting 18.8% from beyond the arc. The breakouts for the players...


I sorted the table by Min%, though the starting lineup was Burrell, Boothe, Roberts, Horne and Kennedy, those five did not get the largest allocation of minutes. The starters in fact logged about 42% of total minutes, again consistent with exhibitions (particularly those which are over by half-time). Along with the familiar faces on offense (Burrell, Kennedy and Evans), it appears that JUCOs Dwight Hardy and Justin Brownlee will bring something to the table. Hardy however, will have to do better than 0-5 from 3 point range if the Johnnies offense is to have a credible perimeter game. Otherwise it just becomes too easy to concentrate on the front court players and shut the Reds' offense down.

The latest word from Montreal has St. John's beating UQAM by 40, 102-62. I will post the breakdown later.

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