St. John's Preview
(All Statistics for Conference Games Only)
St. John's will be without the services of four players it was counting on in the pre-season when it meets Marquette Wednesday night in the first round of the Big East Tournament. Two incoming freshmen – 6'4" guard Derwin Kitchen, a former Top 100 recruit, and highly-regarded 6'6" combo forward Rob Thomas – were both academic casualties, though the latter will be eligible to play next year. Then, after only five conference games, 5' 11" senior guard Daryll Hill, was sidelined due to injury. And now comes perhaps the "unkindest cut of all," to borrow from Shakespeare, as 6'10" senior Lamont Hamilton will likely miss the rest of the season with a partially torn tendon in his knee.
Hamilton, who had averaged 12.8 ppg and 5.6 rpg in 29.3 mpg, will be particularly difficult for coach Norm Roberts to replace as the recently-selected first-team all-conference player was the Red Storm's primary inside scoring threat. Though he disappeared at times, he was the team's leading scorer and second-leading rebounder.
His absence puts an added burden on 6'7" sophomore forward Anthony Mason, Jr. The leading rebounder for St. John's at 6.4 rpg, and second-leading scorer at 11.9 ppg, the son of former pro Anthony Mason, Sr. will have to step up his game. He is definitely capable of doing just that. He's had two double-doubles in league play with 22 points and 12 rebounds against Seton Hall and 16 points and 10 rebounds against Syracuse. Two weeks ago against Louisville he had 19 points and eight boards.
Mason can score in a variety of ways. He is quick enough and handles the ball well enough to drive to the hoop, but he is also capable of hitting shots from behind the arc (23 of 70). When both James and Cubillan are in the game for MU, Matthews will almost certainly match up with Mason, Jr. He'll have to take away dribble penetration, but he can't play off him too much because Mason has hit four treys in two games and three treys in three others.
At center, 6'10" senior Aaron Spears will likely start for the Red Storm. The former Illinois player came into this season with a reputation for being a potentially effective inside scorer but not much of a rebounder. Unfortunately, for St. John's fans, only 50% of his reputation has been evident so far this season, the wrong 50%. Spears is averaging only 4.9 ppg and 2.3 rpg in 14.9 mpg. However, in his most extended action of the season, he did score 11 points and pull down seven rebounds against UConn, and on Sunday he had eight points in only 16 minutes against Providence, so Barro and his back-ups can not afford to ignore him. Spears is very strong, so MU's post defenders must use their body to keep him away from the hoop.
The X factor for Coach Roberts may well be 6'7" freshman Qa'rraan Calhoun, who had his best game of the year Sunday with 21 points – including three of three three-pointers – and seven rebounds against the Friars. He has scored in double figures in three of his last five games. Calhoun is an excellent athlete who can sky. However, he is also dangerous from behind the arc (12 of 30 for 40.0%). Hayward and Fitzgerald will have to come out on him as he is not shy about taking treys.
In the backcourt, shooting guard Avery Patterson appeared to be a terrific outside shooter in the non-conference portion of the season as he averaged 13.8 ppg and drained 37.5% of his trey attempts (39 of 104). He had games of 22, 23, 24, and 26 points prior to the start of conference play, and in those four games made 50% of his three-pointers (25 of 50). In league games he's averaging 8.3 ppg and only 29% from behind the arc (31 of 107). Still, he's a streak shooter, so MU's guards can not lose track of him and give him open looks. He is not a threat to drive (just under 70% of his shots are treys), so that should make their job somewhat easier.
At point guard 6'2" junior Eugene Lawrence has been inconsistent. He's had five double-digit scoring games with a high of 16 against DePaul. He's been very productive in some games, especially two contests with Syracuse as he had 14 points and 10 assists in the first game against the Orange and 10 points and seven assists in the second game. He also had 13 points and seven assists against Notre Dame, and he had a season-high 11 assists in his last game against Providence. In his first conference game this season, Lawrence pulled down a remarkable 14 rebounds against DePaul. He is also the team's leading three-point shooter (41.5%), and twice he's made four of four in league play.
Lawrence is not as quick laterally as some of the point guards he faces, but he is extremely strong. Consequently, he tries to outmuscle his opponent to take him out of his game. James and Cubillan should be able to play up on him, but they can not afford to drop off him and let him shoot from the outside. The Red Storm's guard is turnover prone (4.3 per game), so MU may pressure him a bit more than they usually do.
Overall, Coach Roberts' team has to make a decent percentage of its outside shots to have a chance in this game, especially with Hamilton out of action. The Red Storm ranks 14th in the conference in scoring with Hamilton (61.8 ppg), so they may have trouble manufacturing points. They also rank 14th in field goal percentage (39.2%), but they are seventh in three-point percentage at 33.8%.
On the boards, St. John's ranks 12th in offensive rebounding at 11.5 per game and 11th in defensive rebounding at 22.0 per game, but they will be missing Hamilton, their second best boardman. Overall, the Red Storm are being outrebounded by 2.7 rpg, which ties for 13th in the conference.
To win, St. John's must play excellent defense as well as hit outside shots. It ranks seventh in scoring defense at 67.5 ppg but only 12th in field goal percentage defense at 44.1%. If MU scores 70 points, it should come away with the win.
On offense, expect St. John's to take some time off the clock to limit possessions, especially since it now has even less depth up front. On defense, Roberts will likely play zone much of the time and see if MU's perimeter players can score from behind the arc.
If this turns out to be one of Marquette's four-of-21 three-point shooting performances, St. John's could definitely pull off the upset. This is, after all, a team that handled Providence on Sunday even with Hamilton playing only 12 minutes. In short, Coach Tom Crean's team must play with intensity on defense and patience on offense. If it doesn't do both, MU's stay in the conference tournament could be over quickly.
**Eric Silver is also a contributing writer fro CHN, College Hoops Net