So, this will be the first big game at MSG during the Big East regular season for Pitt since… I have no idea. Were there any during the Mike Jarvis era? Wow. Just think about that. Pitt has had some big games at the garden for the past 8-10 years. Duke, Texas, the Big East Tournament games. But when was the last time you can remember a big game there with St. John’s? Godspeed Norm Roberts.
As much as Pitt fans and the players in recent years like to speak of MSG a home-away-from-home, Pitt is only 4-7 at MSG vs. St. John’s. With two of the winscoming in the last few years. Prior to 2008, you would have had to go back to 1995 to find a win at MSG for Pitt over St. John’s. Much like the Nova streak at the Pavilion, though, this is skewed by the fact that Pitt only played 3 games at MSG vs. St. John’s between 1995 and 2008. But I digress.
I Haven’t done one of these all season, but when Pico (formerly of East Coast Bias) now part of the SBN Borg collective, contacted me there was sufficient time and curiosity. You can find my answers to his questions right here.
1. St.John’s has been playing solid defense all season, but against the better competition lately it seems that the offense has really picked up, and looking at KenPom’s GamePlan, offensive efficiency has been the big story in your three biggest wins in the past 2 weeks (Duke, UConn and at Marquette). Where has that been coming from? How?
First, I’ll say that I don’t think the Red Storm have been playing particularly good defense – they’ve played a gambling defense, and it didn’t work for stretches early in the season and in the latter half of January. I don’t think they’re the greatest yet – Cincinnati, for one, is a dog of an offensive team, filled with bad ideas – but the offensive explosion has been nice. A lot of it is Dwight Hardy’s sudden ability to exploit little windows to drive, take a shot, or pass the ball off and get it back for a shot.
But it’s a team effort as well. And powered partly by the defense’s ability to turn the ball over. And once the Johnnies can make shots, they can turn to the press, harassing and wearing out the opponent.
2. Year one in the Steve Lavin era. Team has been a little up-and-down at times, but sure seems to have improved all season and presently sits on what appears to be the correct side of all bubble talk. Is this about what you expected? Obviously you have to be optimistic for the future with the monster class coming in, but what is the feeling for the rest of this season? Regular season, BET, NCAA Tourney?
I expected around this, but with less volatility. I mean… Fordham. I was there. I paid money to fly back and… Fordham…
Ok, I took a step away, had a nice breath.
But I didn’t expect so many wins over strong teams. The Johnnies are such an interesting and flawed team (more on that later), but they are developing so rapidly. The coaching staff has changed the team from where they were in the beginning of the season until now… I think it’s not just Mike Dunlap and Coach Keady. I think there are a lot of skills on this staff, and I think Lavin’s late-season surges at UCLA might be part of his teaching style.
The rest of the season, I think the team can get to 10 wins. Maybe even 11. Not more than that, but… they are executing in winning ways. So maybe they beat Pitt or Villanova, along with the 3 other teams.
BE Tournament… I hope they don’t go too far. Win one game, get some rest for the NCAAs. But they’ll be trying to win it all, because the Garden is their home floor. They might make the third round.
NCAAs always depend on the matchup. If they can execute like they have been, Sweet Sixteen. I think they at least win a game, unless they play a team that can exploit their weakness.
3. What would you say is the biggest (exploitable) weakness on this St. John’s team? A cursory look seems to suggest that rebounding on both ends is the biggest issue.
Size. Size has been the problem. Three-point shooting defense has been an issue all season, but they find ways of winning even when the other team is strafing them from the far corner.
But they haven’t yet figured out how to score over/ around size, and how to defend good, capable big men. It messes up the interior part of the offense. You’ll notice that the defensive rebounding percentage for the team is actually one of the better ones in the league! Still, height bothers this team a lot. And teams will have their chances on the offensive glass.
The other exploitable weakness is that the Red Storm are very dependent on the turnover in their defense. If a team can manage their press, there will be shots available.
4. UConn Blog went SBN in late 2009 and promptly had their football and basketball seasons go to hell. NovaBlog came aboard last year, and fell apart in the second half of the season. How have you managed to avoid the Big East SBN curse so far? I mean someone did tell you about it, right?
… there’s a curse?
Actually, this is the curse. Now St. John’s fans have expectations! No, I think because I came on mid-year (January), and the Red Storm were so bad in previous years, it’s less of a “curse” than a reversal. So DePaul needs an SBN site.
5. How closely do you follow all the conference expansion stuff? Are you at all concerned with the future of the Big East basketball schools, given the football money and issues?
I follow it on occasion. What happens will be; St. John’s can’t go and rebuild their football team, nor should they. Big East football is not very good, and not worth it to move into. It’s just not. There’s not a ton of football culture once you pass mid-PA (maybe in Jersey?)…
Is that an issue or a factor? I don’t know. I would hope it is; basketball is very important to the Big East culture/ history. That can change, of course.
And while a split might happen, I think a high-end A-10 (which is what the non-football schools would form) wouldn’t be the worst thing. I’d rather not see that, and the heart of the Big East is the eastern rivalries that have built up. And how would they split? Add some podunk eastern football teams? Add Houston? Add Utah State? Blech. So if a split happens, I’ll be sad, but… Godspeed, football schools. Leave the name on the foyer table.
Thanks to Pico for the time.