Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani: The Holiday Festival Finals

by Ray Floriani
NEW YORK CITY - St. John's celebrated the holiday season with their second tournament championship this year. The Red Storm defeated Northwestern in the championship to capture the MSG Holiday Festival at Madison square Garden. In November St.John's had captured the Great Alaska Shootout.

The Holiday Logo
on the MSG scoreboard

The scores:

ConsolationDavidson76St. Francis(NY)69
FinalSt. John's85Northwestern69

The Four Factors in the consolation:

St. Francis(NY)39324217

Sometimes we get caught up in over analyzing, 'paralysis by analysis' if you will. Forgotten is the simple act of putting the ball through the hoop. Davidson went into the locker room at halftime with a 33-28 lead largely on that ability to make shots. The Wildcats' eFG percentage was 59% while they enjoyed the same percentage from two point range (10 of 17). St. Francis(NY) on the other hand, shot a 31% eFG mark hitting only 30% inside the arc.

The Davidson percentage cooled a bit the second half. Still, they never lost the lead. The game was contested at a 70 possession pace with Davidson owning a 109-99 offensive efficiency edge. Davidson mentor Bob McKillop emphasized that his team likes to get out and shoot quickly not walk it up the floor. The Wildcats entered the game averaging 67 possessions.

McKillop was quite pleased with his team's ability to get to the line and the guards distributing the ball in the paint. Over the last 12 minutes of the game each of the five Wildcat field goals was in the paint.

St. Francis was without leading scorer Akeem Bennett (suspended one game for an ejection the night before). Bennett's absence saw interior contributions from the likes of sophomore forward Akeem Johnson (15 points 10 boards). Something definitely needed with conference play resuming in earnest after the new year.

Ricky Cadell of St. Francis(NY) led all scorers with 21 points. Both clubs are now 6-5.

Northwestern's John Shurna (28 points)
shows better form at the line than...
see below

Northwestern and St. John's
The pace and efficiency in the championship:

St. John's67127

The Four Factors:

St. John's66313319

The first four minutes. Northwestern came out taking the three. They knocked down three treys en route to an 11-8 lead. St. John's answered with a pair of their own by Dwight Hardy. At the 16 minute mark each team had only 6 possessions.

Both teams lit it up on the offensive efficiency. At the half, Northwestern checked in at 121, St. John's not too far behind at 112. Credit the trey. The Wildcats got great looks, hitting 6 of 12 beyond the arc. John Shurna, a junior forward was 3 of 4 from three with 19 first half points. The Red Storm hit 5 of 12 treys. Dwight Hardy canned 12 points on 4 of 8 dialed long distance. Hardy took nine attempts from the floor the initial half with one (miss) inside the arc.

The first four minutes, second half. Northwestern led 40-37 at the half. At the 16 minute mark the score was tied at 45. The tide had begun to turn as the 6 possessions over those first few minutes score St. John's knock down field goals on four of them. All the Wildcats came up with were two (two point) field goals and a free throw.

St. John's coach Steve Lavin referenced the box score and spoke of St. John's 'offensive efficiency' the second half. Lavin was referring to the Red Storm's 80% field goal shooting percentage (16 of 20) the last twenty minutes. Over that juncture the eFG percentage was 85%. St. John's scored 48 points on 34 possessions, a whopping OE of 141. Lavin was right about the offensive efficiency.

Why the change? Northwestern plays a tough 1-3-1 zone. The Red Storm figured one way to beat it was outrun it. St. John's utilized transition and was very effective the second half. Lavin also pointed out that when the defense of Northwestern got back, St. John's was willing to get touches, reverse the ball and feed the post.

As impressive as the offense was, the Red Storm did a great job defensively the second half. The wildcats scored 29 points on 36 possessions for an OE of 81. Two keys: St. John's rotated quicker to close out on perimeter shooters and defensively pressured the ball and forced Northwestern to "put it on the deck," per Lavin.

Zone offense.
Impressed the way St. John's attacked the 1-3-1. They utilized good ball movement and patience. The first half St. John's penetrated into the gaps, looked for a cutter or passed back to the perimeter. The second half they posted up more as Northwestern often had a guard on the back end of the zone, vulnerable to a low post mismatch.

St. John's assisted on 22 of 31 (71%) field goals. "Coach Wooden said you should try to get 20-25 assists per game," Lavin said. "We did that and it showed in our offense."

Red Storm put five players in double figures. Efficiency totals of the top three players illustrate impressive performances and a spreading of the wealth.

RatingPer. Min.
Dwight Hardy270.722
Justin Burrell230.920
Justin Brownlee230.677

Northwestern coach Bill Carmody and his players saw the loss as a little more than a 'bump in the road'. What concerns Carmody was not how his offense fizzled the second half. Rather, the concerns are with defense. A defense that not only gave up an 80% shooting half but allowed St. John's to get great looks and penetration leading to better or easier shots to hit..

Closing the Books:
St. John's is 7-3, Northwestern suffered their first loss and is 8-1. John Shurna paced all scorers with 28 points while Dwight Hardy led St. John's with 24.

An Early Advantage:
Yours truly arrived at MSG about two hours before game time. It afforded an opportunity to shoot a while on the hallowed Garden floor. For 'stats' purposes, included were two sets of ten free throws. The first set was a 'Shaq like' 2 of 10. The second set improved to 6 of 10. If my writing colleagues and I form a team, now it's obvious who will be fouled late in a close game.

Your VBTN contributor at the line.
This one was good.
(photo by John Ryan)

The All-Tournament Team:
Ricky Cadell, St. Francis(NY)
Jake Cohen, Davidson
Drew Crawford, Northwestern
John Shurna, Northwestern
Dwight Hardy, St. John's
Lou Carnesecca MVP: Justin Brownlee, St. John's

Coach Steve Lavin and the victorious St. John's team
celebrate at center court

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