Familiarity breeds contempt, and I have neither towards the St. John's basketball program. Fortunately, Norman Rose of Rumble in the Garden has at least one of those, and he was gracious enough to answer our questions about the Red Storm.
Banners on the Parkway: St. John's blocks a ton of shots, especially when Obekpa is on the floor. Is their defense all about funneling it to the eraser in the middle, or is there more nuance to it than that? Is a team that avoids blocks going to have success against St. John's?
Rumble in the Garden: A lot of the defense is about encouraging opponents to drive toward the center of the defense, a sticky zone of long hands and leapers. It's not just Chris Obekpa; Orlando Sanchez will pin a shot, and JaKarr Sampson and Sir`Dominic Pointer are proficient shot-erasers on the wings.
Avoiding blocks isn't the key... I don't think. Maybe only Wisconsin avoided getting many of their shots blocked, and they still shot 45% inside the arc (on the season, the Badgers have shot 51% on twos). A team that challenges the interior will see some success for stretches, but the length is VERY hard to score over.
A team that takes lots of threes while not turning the ball over or a team with C.J. Fair - those teams can have success offensively.
BotP: Coach Lavin has the team playing very quickly on offense without turning the ball over very much at all. Is this a function of a couple of very stingy ball handlers, or does the offensive system lend itself to taking care of the ball?
RitG: A bit of both, but really it's a function of scheme and emphasis. St. John's is VERY careful with the ball - almost poassive - in half-court sets. And the team is very aggressive with the ball in transition, so they tend to end possessions with a shot within the first 10-15 seconds of the shot clock.
Sometimes that means a long jumper that makes one think about how that shot could be obtained with five seconds on the shot clock... but it keeps the turnovers down and keep the pace more to St. John's liking.
BotP: For such a tall team, St. John's doesn't rebound the ball significantly better than average. To what do you attribute this?
RitG: On the offensive end, Steve Lavin has never put a lot of emphasis on offensive rebounding; and with his St. John's teams, he has wanted to defense to be in place to spark run-outs. So he'll give up the second-shot opportunities and have his fellas lurking in the paint at the other end.
But on the defensive end... that's a slight issue. It's not overwhelming, but it's curious. The emphasis defensively is on altering or blocking shots, and with so many players swatting, it's hard to keep them all in position for the defensive rebound.
That said - the team is MUCH better at defensive rebounding than they were the past two years.
BotP: If you have the final possession of the game and need a score, what are you hoping to see called? What if you need a three?
RitG: Hope? I don't know. Expect? The ball in D`Angelo Harrison's or Sir`Dominic Pointer's hands. If the team needs a three, it will definitely start in Harrison's hands.
BotP: Fill in the blank: if Xavier ______________, they'll win this game.
RitG: "Offensively takes care of the ball and shoots some timely threes, while keeping St. John's away from the basket/ shooting long jump shots."
On an important programming note, noon tips are always a little tricky to get everything squeezed in for, and we've also got the conference season to preview. To that end, we'll post both sides of the Q&A tonight and our preview will run at 10 tomorrow morning. Hopefully you'll still end up with all the news that is news in time for the ball to go up.