Friday, February 25, 2011

Guest Contributor: Pico Dulce -- St. John's Scouting Report

Pico Dulce of Rumble in the Garden blog ran off a scouting report on the Red Storm...

Starting Five & Rotation Notes
Dwight Hardy G 6'2" and listed at 195 (which I don't believe) - he has a lot of nicknames and takes a lot of shots for the Red Storm. He's become very accurate in the last month. You may heave heard something about him.

Paris Horne G 6'3" - an ace defender, and finally able to use his combination of athleticism - strength and speed, defensive agility and leaping ability - to help the team win in ways that don't show up on the scoreboard.

DJ Kennedy G/F 6'5" - a tenacious dirty-work player who will pick up rebounds and is a dangerous defender in the Red Storm's press and in transition defense.

Dwayne Polee II F 6'7" - a long freshman getting his feet wet with a number of starts, he has a developing jump shot.

The Red Storm go maybe 8 deep, with forwards Justin Burrell and Sean Evans logging time in the post, along with point guard Malik Boothe.

Justin Burrell is 6'8" and looks like a basketball player. Half the time, he plays like a basketball player; he's been motivated and focused recently, so his active brand of basketball - physical, strong, and liable to catch a Technical foul - will be on display.

Sean Evans, the Philly native, has re-blossomed into a bit of a low-post force. He's doing a lot more right now than he did in the previous 3 seasons, not breaking off of the offense to make dribble moves that go nowhere (I hope he was breaking off of the plan. If that was the plan, well...). Evans can bang in the paint and hold his space.

Malik Boothe is all of 5'9" but he has been a defensive sparkplug. No quarter asked, none given. He's happy to try and pull the ball right out of another players' hands, passes decently, and is much better at making an end-of-shot-clock jumper or drive than in the past.

Defense First
St. John's whole system is based off of their defensive pressure. It's not constant; they press off of made shots, generally, and the press tends to slow teams down a bit, restricting transition opportunities. At times, they will crank it up with Paris Horne and Malik Boothe guarding ballhandlers close; there will be traps around halfcourt at times. When the press is broken, there is often an open 3-pointer waiting to happen.

In the halfcourt, the Red Storm mostly play a matchup zone. Some games it looks better than others, and they give up a number of three-pointers in the zone - for periods of the game. Late in the game, they tend to better identify developing threats and mark them well. Even with the open threes, the zone is effective. The Red Storm spring traps in the corners to force turnovers or passes that lead to turnovers. The team reacts well in the zone, forcing cross-court passes that can get a little wild.

On Offense
On offense the team moves the ball up quickly to test the defense. Off of misses and of turnovers, DJ Kennedy will likely be in the middle, looking for a streaking Justin Brownlee or Paris Horne going to the basket; sometimes Kennedy's the recipient of those passes. Dwight Hardy is often guarded, and gets many of his points off of a screen-and-roll and a dribble. He's become awesome at attacking a little bit of daylight for a drive and layup/ foul or a mid-range jump shot.

His job as point guard is in name only; he gets to handle the ball because he's uniquely able to take advantage of small breakdowns in the defense. But his ability to attack draws defenders; he'll pass the ball off, and get it back when he's better able to attack his man.

Vulnerabilities & Conclusion
The Red Storm have been susceptible to size for much of the season; Justin Brownlee is less effective against bigger defenders, though he is using his offensive versatility more than in the past. But the team has trouble scoring on longer, taller teams like Cincinnati; expect them to have some struggles against Yarou and Pena if they can't coax those two out of the paint. The forwards have shown a willingness to pass out of trouble (and to rotate to places to accept passes when their teammates are in trouble), and they look more effective, even if the shots aren't falling. Justin Burrell has shown signs of being a creative post player once more, so there's a chance that he might be able to go to work on Villanova.

Overall, the Johnnies are playing smart, smart basketball. I don't think they'll win - but that's mainly because I'm a pessimist. The team is really clicking despite their weaknesses, and they've become a real joy to watch.

greyCat Notes...Pico is absolutely correct about his last point -- this Johnnies team has been fun to watch. I caught them at the Garden for the Notre Dame and Pittsburgh games this season and the team has taken a 180 degree turn from 2010 and earlier editions. This is a very dangerous St. John's team.

On Dwayne Polee -- when asked in the Pitt post game presser about next season's team, Coach Steve Lavin suggested that getting starts and minutes this season for Polee would pay dividends next season as he would be one of the experienced players the staff could rely on to bring next season's freshmen along.

Catch Pico's "5 Questions..." features with (they discuss indispensable players, the bigs turnover problems and "Jay Wright to..." rumors) and Nova Blog (they explore confidence issues, Mo Sutton's suspensions, futures for Corey Fisher, etc.) over at Rumble in the Garden. Pico has also combined material from his "5 Questions for..." features with a scouting report I sent over yesterday and produced an entertaining breakdown of the Wildcats and Johnnies game tomorrow.

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