"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Know your opponent: St John's

Marquette visits St. John's at Carnesecca Arena on Wednesday night in the second of three road games for the Warriors. The Johnnies are winners in three of their last four outings and own an overall record of 15-11 and 5-9 in BIG EAST action. To learn more about MU's next opponent, here's a Q/A from Pico Dulce of East Coast Bias. Our responses to Pico's questions about the Warriors can be found here at East Coast Bias. Pico also did a fine preview of the game here at Johnny Jungle.

Where are the signs of hope for St. John's future? Is Norm Roberts the guy to lead St. John's back?

Very hard to see, and no.

While this post is outdated and St. John’s efficiency margin has improved with uncharacteristically great offensive performances against Louisville and South Florida, this still rings true. It’s time to change. One could say that after 6 years, having a 9 person class of juniors and an outside chance at the NIT, is progress. But what kind of progress? The NIT doesn’t attract recruits who say “boy, I’ve always wanted to get to the second round of the NIT. What radio station is that on? The team has made some improvement this year, but not enough to be anywhere near an NCAA contender. They’re inconsistent, outmatched in a quarter of their Big East contests, and sometimes look like they’ve just met each other the night before the game. And then, even if they make the NCAA Tournament next year (requiring another leap in efficiency in conference play), those 9 seniors on the squad leave next year, and are replaced by… some A-10 level talent and some JUCOs. After seeing the first two years with the current juniors… the team will be in for an even rougher patch with younger players. And the staff and administration will say “well they’re young,” but being young here is a choice.

Norm Roberts is not the guy to lead the Red Storm back. He gets his team to play hard at times, but also puts out a team that looks defeated at times, a team that has a hard time learning basic team skills on both ends, a team whose forwards develop slowly, a team whose point guard play for 6 years has been substandard, a team wholly dependent on the quality of the talent, and the ready-made Big East talent isn’t coming.

What has been better as the Johnnies have won three of four?

Poorer opposing defenses and a newfound offensive confidence/ aggression.

I thought about an answer to this a bit while watching St. John's hold a steady lead over South Florida, and I had to look back at the teams the Red Storm beat over the stretch. Louisville is a big name, but in conference, they have been up and down. Notre Dame profiles as about a .500 team in conference, and without Luke Harangody, maybe a little less (and their defense is simply atrocious). And South Florida's been winning on the strength of their ability to get to the line, not actually being more efficient from the field than opponents (really, it’s kind of fascinating – they’re about .06 points per possession worse than their opponents). Three flawed teams, placed nicely in a row by the schedule makers.

Which of course begs the question: what happened with Seton Hall? And a Pirate team without Eugene Harvey and with only about 8-10 minutes form Jeremy Hazell (who injured his finger early in the game)? That game speaks to what's strange about the Red Storm. Specifically, I just don't know what teams the Red Storm can beat. I know they can lose to the top 4-8 in the conference. I know they wilt in the presence of U Conn. But this year, they handle the ball much better and give themselves a chance to score. But even the ballhandling and aggression/ assertiveness doesn’t always mean wins; against Seton Hall, the aggressiveness led to a lot of strong shots (some of the crappiest offense I have seen them play and that says a LOT).

There's something to be said about the veteran leadership of DJ Kennedy - as he goes, the team goes. And Malik Boothe has been a bit more active on the offensive end, trying to do something more than bring the ball up and get out of the way on offense. Again, these have been some iffy-to-bad defenses with point guards who aren't known for their defensive pressure, so take that with a grain of salt. And Justin Burrell has been playing like his potential seemed to dictate his freshman year. That's one player who has really emerged recently... though he can't get himself the ball. I also think Anthony Mason's defense has had some solid moments. I'll speak more on Burrell and Mase below.

Overall, the Johnnies defense is pretty solid, allowing 0.92 ppp, but there's nothing overall that stands out as a strength. Is the sum greater than the parts, or how do you explain that?

First, the overall number seems a little misleading to me. The Johnnies played a Temple team that seemingly couldn't dribble and shoot the ball (I heard it on the radio, so I don't know what on earth they did to get that performance), some bad local teams, and have enjoyed some good performances against Cincy, DePaul, Louisville, and a few more - the numbers are a little skewed, but only a few teams have gone off on them offensively (like Rutgers).

I would say that in the team's wins and better defensive performances, they do a good job staying in front of opponents and preventing run-outs. But in the losses and poorer defensive performances, the other team just seems to run on them and/ or get their forwards into the paint where they score with ease. And there’s something about the defense that has allowed a number of players to just have their way with the Red Storm from the outside, like Mike Rosario did, and like Da’Sean Butler did (in a half). The head coach will say “a player just made plays” or “a guy got hot” but… I personally think it happens too often to not be a flaw in the defensive preparation or execution.

I can't say that it's felt like a consistent defensive performance at all.

Dwight Hardy has emerged as one of the Johnnies' most reliable scorers, while junior Justin Burrell has been less effective than expected. How is the chemistry of this team given the relatively deep roster (seven players averaging 6 points or more).

I would say that recently, the opposite is truer - Justin Burrell's really coming on, and Dwight Hardy's flaws have been exposed. Burrell has been pretty effective when he gets the ball in the post – even though you will see St. John’s guards look away from him in the post at times to try and probe with the dribble. He is rebounding with a bit more vigor, and his jump shot and free throw shooting look confident and smooth. Supposedly a rival coach told him “if you were on my team, you’d be a pro by now,” (don’t have a concrete source, just hearsay) and I can see some truth in that. The coaching staff has struggled to get a consistent effort from Justin, but his skill set is pretty nice.

Meanwhile, Hardy only provides scoring. His defense is decent but has lapses. His ability to drive to the hoop is there but inconsistent. His best attribute is getting his shot off of a single dribble; the team needs to run more crisp sets where he gets the ball off the catch, though. But when he’s not hitting – or when the team has him run the point to keep him on the floor – Hardy’s not as effective.

As for the chemistry, it seems pretty good. Some guys see a little less time, but they are ok with their roles - little public pouting and those who have insights on the team say the squad likes each other.

What's the deal with Omari Lawrence? He gets a ton of possessions but is woefully inefficient. Also, I should know the answer already, but what happened to Anthony Mason Jr?

Since Omari plays for St. John's he has to forget how to hit a credible jump shot.

I think Omari needs to develop his shot, his feel for the college game's speed (something he's said to the papers), work on his moves, and work on his shot (along with his touch near the basket). I think he's an interesting player, and I made the case that he isn't so far from Maryland's Sean Mosley's skill set and body type, though he'll be more of a slasher/ bouncer and Mosley I think was touted as a midrange shooter. Granted, that was a month ago, and I should recheck that notion. And that’s my wild opinion, really. I think Omari's kind of like basketball's Ol' Dirty Bastard - there's no father to his style (besides undersized power forwards like Paul Harris). But getting to spaces to get one’s shot off is a skill, and Omari’s always been a different type of guard. He’s a willing defender, has some court vision. I strongly believe he’ll turn into a jack-of-all-trades player.

Mase had a torn tendon in his foot, hamstring problems, and they kept recurring. His legs are coming back, but the timing on his shot hasn’t. I’ve always had the strong opinion that the staff needed to work with him on his shot. His release is a little funky and it tends to be inconsistent. His footwork shooting isn’t always technically sound, either. That and the rust has made him an ineffective offensive player, but his length on defense makes a play each game, it seems.

Pico, thanks for knowledge.

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