Friday, January 22, 2010

Guest Contributor Pico Dulce: Preview of Villanova at St. John's

Villanova travels to Madison Square Garden on Saturday to play the St. John's Red Storm. Pico Dulce of the east coast bias and Johnny Jungle Blogs shares his thoughts about the St. John's Red Storm and what the Wildcats can expect when they tip off at noon.

Things you should know about St. John’s:

The fans have found the team frustrating in Big East play. Personally, I believe people’s expectations were pretty high for a team that won 6 conference games (and a Big East tournament game) last year, beating the lame, the weak, and Notre Dame and Georgetown, who played like a little bit of both. St. John’s scored about .11 points per possession less than their opponents last year, and returned the same core. Familiarity breeds greater efficiency in college ball, but that’s a huge gap to make up – even if the name stars left the league. So far this year, the team is .5 points per possession below their opponents.

Something I strongly believe: this team is improved. “Improve” is a far cry from “contend”, and the fans are upset about not contending. Rightfully so; 6 years, with any extra leniency for the moral high ground and better relationships with AAU players, is a long time for fans to watch a team struggle to get near .500 on the season. And coming off another loss where the Red Storm seemed to have a chance, and once again lose it in a flurry of poor play, defensive breakdowns, and the usual scoring drought… things aren’t going well.

St. John’s has a lot of depth – and now Anthony Mason Jr. is back. So 10 guys will see court time in most games. The team’s point guards are not scorers; the points come generally from a plethora of wing players. Style-wise, you’ll see a lot of ball screens with the occasional off-ball screen for a shooter; St. John’s doesn’t pick and roll much, the screens are intended to give the ballhandler a clearer look at the basket. Defensively, there will be some token pressure and the occasional zone look, but the team is best – and usually – in the halfcourt man with bigs coming out to bother opposing ballhandlers.

The closest thing to an alpha dog player for St. John’s is DJ Kennedy, who will go to the basket in crucial midgame situations; his jump shot is vastly improved, his drives are crafty, and his rebounding is solid. At the end of games, Dwight Hardy has been the guy; he can drive and shoot the 3-pointer. Against smaller teams, Justin Brownlee and Sean Evans are solid rebounders and can score off the dribble… or make mistakes off the dribble. Paris Horne is a scoring threat from the outside; when he drives to the hoop he never seems to get the call. Justin Burrell has been more aggressive in looking for his shot. Anthony Mason Jr. hasn’t been crisp with the jump shot yet, but contributes with rebounding and length on defense.

Speaking of defense, Dele Coker has made some strides this year in playing without fouling, rebounding better (I am surprised he wasn’t credited with any boards against U Conn, he was positioned well on the glass and boxed out) and swatting shots. Burrell and Justin Brownlee can block some shots as well. Paris Horne is considered the team’s tough perimeter defender, but DJ Kennedy can defend well.

Thanking Pico for his thoughts, I want to add that I will be at the Garden, hosting a live blog for the folks at Rush the Court. After you open the game thread on your favorite message board, open a second tab, come over to Rush the Court and contribute to the commentary and dialog live from the game.

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