Preview: St. John's

West Virginia plays at St. John's in the first of a pair of games in three days.

SCOUTING THE RED STORM

As usual, the red Storm are paced by the guard play. Point guard Malik Boothe (5-9, 188 lbs.) is a solid distributor with a positive assist-to-turnover ratio on a team that averages more turnovers than assists. The junior isn't shooting well at 29.3 percent (19.2 from three-point range), however, and because of that his production has dropped to four points per game to go with a couple rebounds. Boothe returned from the offseason with what head coach Norm Roberts thought would be a better outside shot, but that has yet to show itself despite a full recovery from a hand injury. His strength and quickness allow him to get into the lane and dish off, though, and his free throw shooting is reasonable. Shooting guard Paris Horne (6-3, 191 lbs.) is hitting for eight points per game while making 40 percent from the floor and almost 38 percent from three. His best game is as a finisher on challenges to the hoop. Horne is athletic, and his game as a slasher meshes well with SJU's offense. The junior has a good midrange game, and has been able to extend that some behind the three-point line. He is also among the better defenders for Roberts, and he works the two-man game effectively with top scorer D.J. Kennedy (6-5, 215 lbs.). Kennedy, the swingman, has a game more resembling a guard than forward. He has taken 25 more shots than anybody else on the team and is the lone player averaging double figures at 15.5 points to go with 6.5 boards. The Pittsburgh native is shooting well inside the arc, but at 36 percent has been average beyond it. He is good on the glass at both ends, and that, combined with his athleticism, allows Roberts to play bigger by sliding him into the two slot at times. Called the "glue guy" by the staff, Kennedy continually works for putback chances and brings fundamentals, intensity and positive intangibles for SJU.

Power forward Anthony Mason, Jr. (6-7, 210 lbs.) is the lone upperclassman in a starting five of otherwise juniors. He hits for about five points and five rebounds per game, though in his fifth season of collegiate basketball, one would expect more – especially after he hit for more than 14 points per game last year, 15 in Big East contests. Mason, Jr. has played in just seven games this year, starting three, and really has never been the same dynamic player he was before 2008-09 season-ending surgery for a tendon tear in his right foot. He then aggravated a hamstring injury this past October after originally suffering a similar injury earlier in the season. The time off, coupled with the continual troubles with the hamstring, has kept the one-time All-Big East honorable mention selection from playing any more than about 20 minutes per game. Mason, Jr. is shooting just 33 percent, and has made just one of his 10 three-pointers this year after reaching the top six in school history with 80 made threes by the time he entered his junior season. His lateral movement has been somewhat affected as well, and it appears he might never regain the form he once had. This is till a talented player, albeit one searching for exactly what he can still do well on the floor. Five-man Sean Evans (6-8, 255 lbs.) is a force in the paint in terms of moving players and showcasing physicality. He is scoring seven points per game to go with seven rebounds, and he might be the most bulky foe WVU will face this year. Evans posts up well, and has a bit of game when facing the basket. He finishes well and has almost the same amount of offensive rebounds as defensive. He's used to facing taller, longer players as well, so it's difficult to note how much West Virginia's length will bother him. He can guard a variety of styles at the other end, and has shown the ability to remain effective on defense even away from the hoop. He makes only about 50 percent from the line, and that has hurt the Red Storm at times.

BlueGoldNews.com
Game Info
Sat. Feb. 6
Noon EST

Madison Square Garden
Records
WVU 18-3, 7-2
SJU 12-9, 2-7
Series
WVU 19-15
TV
ESPNU
Sirius Channel:91
RPI
WVU - 5
SJU - 86

Roberts does have a solid bench, which at one time has upwards of seven players available. That has been shorted with a season-ending concussion to guard Quincy Roberts (6-5, 195 lbs.) and an illness to forward Rob Thomas (6-6, 235 lbs.), though Thomas could play and there are still five others who see decent time. Thomas, a junior from Harlem, averages a couple points in about seven minutes, and didn't play a major depth roll before the illness. Justin Brownlee (6-7, 232 lbs.) is the main interior backup at 20 minutes per game. The junior averages seven points and five rebounds and is hitting well from the inside. He has taken 35 threes, making seven, but that's not his game. The junior college transfer handles well, and tends to score in bunches. He is a finisher in transition, and would rather play uptempo than in the halfcourt. This is a quality reserve for Roberts, and likely one that could crack the top five going into next season even against seniors. The most difficult physical match for WVU might be Dele Coker (6-10, 252 lbs.). The Nigeria native has the potential to be a good shot blocker (23 this season), and he added quickness to go with excellent muscle development in the offseason. He has started eight times this season, but in 10 minutes per game is averaging just two points and two rebounds in a slightly disappointing season thus far. The junior blocked four shots against WVU last year. At the swing slot, freshman Omari Lawrence (6-4, 209 lbs.) is still adjusting to the college game. A top 25 small forward prospect in last year's class, Lawrence was a nice pickup for Roberts, but he isn't shooting well, and his desire to make plays has at times cause more harm than help. He's making just 36.4 percent from the line, and worse from three-point range (30%) and the floor (33%). He also has more turnovers than assists, and simply hasn't let opportunities develop, instead forcing them. Fellow freshman Malik Stith (5-11, 185 lbs.) shows great promise. The Hempstead native is quick, handles the ball well and is a good on-ball defender. He can get caught up when moving off screens, and at times passes when a shot is available, but that's main youthful inexperience. He hits for two points and a board per game in about 13 minutes – but he will be a good one in a year or two. The other reserve guard, Dwight Hardy (6-2, 187 lbs.), plays more than half the game. He started twice, but it appears Roberts likes him off the bench. The junior is shooting 42 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three (45 of 114). Of his 200 shots, 57 percent are from three-point range, and if his pace continues, he will finish as one of the Big East leaders in threes this season. He averages 11.5 points as one of just two SWJU players to reach double figures in per game scoring. The Bronx native is also an above average defender and can score off the dribble if the lane is available. He is very intelligent in his choices, and is arguably the best all-around player for the Storm.

OUTLOOK

The issues that have plagued St. John's in the past are similar to what's plaguing the program this season. The Red Storm turns the ball over too much to offset its inability to distribute and get enough players involved in the offense. There is some stagnation within the motion sets, there isn't a true big center and the shooting hasn't been quite good enough in most league games. Roberts has numbers, and there's certainly athleticism and skill, but some of that rawness is still present in players into their junior and senior seasons. It doesn't seem as if the staff polishes the play to a collegiate shine, and that far higher quality players are getting out of New York than are staying to play for St. John's. West Virginia should be able to win the rebounding battle here and, barring a poor shooting game or getting into an uptempo battle with a group of athletes, this is a game the Mountaineers should be able to control and feel comfortable winning. It's difficult to dictate when that comfort will come, but most would likely be surprised if the contest was tight with five minutes left. There simply isn't the honed basketball ability (shooting, tenacity and intelligence on defense) at St. John's that there is at West Virginia. If the game is played in the halfcourt with teams having to work for buckets, WVU should be able to win solidly. If it's fast paced or the Mountaineers play for 20 or 30 minutes instead of 40, SJU will have a prime shot at an upset at Madison Square Garden. Too, West Virginia could be emotional and attempt to play beyond its abilities because so many of its players are from new York and New Jersey. For most that see major minutes, however, the Garden scene has already been played out before.

INJURY REPORT

WVU: None.

SJU: G Quincy Roberts (Concussion), Out for Season; F Rob Thomas (Illness), Questionable.

FAST BREAKS

WVU has won nine in a row against St. John's, including the last four games in New York. The Mountaineers have won 12 of their last 18 games in Madison Square Garden and 40 of their last 44 versus unranked foes.

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Da'Sean Butler is fifth in school history in career scoring with 1,789 points. He needs nine points to pass Greg Jones for fourth place. He has the most career double-figure scoring games in school history.

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Bob Huggins is tied with Ralph Miller for 22nd place on the all-time winningest men's basketball coaching list. He has 657 career victories and needs seven more to tie John Wooden for 21st place.

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West Virginia's 18-3 start is its best since the 1997-98 Sweet 16 team started 19-3. That team defeated Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32 on a last-second bank shot. The Bearcats were coached by Huggins at the time.

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Kevin Jones needs one point to reach 300 this season. He has reached double figures in 18 of 21 games.

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St. John's has lost four in a row and seven of its last nine. It is 9-3 at home this season, 2-2 in Big East play. WVU leads the series 12-5 since joining the Big East in 1995. The Red Storm haven't won a series game since Jan. 5, 2002.


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