Saturday, February 23, 2008

St. John's Preview

It occurred to me as I thought about writing this preview that I couldn't name a single player on St. John's roster. Then I looked at their roster, and I understood why. 1 senior, 2 juniors, 1 sophomore, and 6 freshmen. Only Eugene Lawrence and Anthony Mason, Jr. were names I even recognized.

Understandably with that kind of youth, the Johnnies have had some growing pains this season. The offense is simply not good - they score just 0.94 points per possession on the season, and have had 11 games this season where they failed to score 0.90 points per possession. The Johnnies are both generous with the ball (turnovers on 22.7% of possessions) and utterly incapable of putting it in the basket (313th in the country in EFG%). No one shoots close to 50%, and sophomore Larry Wright is the only real threat from beyond the arc. The offense, or what offense there is, centers around Wright, Mason, and freshman Justin Burrell. This should be a chance for Duke's defense to get back on its feet. If the Devils can't stop this squad, there's reason to worry about the defense.

St. John's has won games this year on the defensive side of the basketball. Their defense is in the top 50 in the country in adjusted efficiency, although they don't excel in any particular category. They defend the three point line reasonably well, and do a decent job keeping teams off the glass. One big problem the Johnnies have had is fouling - opponents shoot a lot of free throws (although this may be related to the fact that they tend to be trailing at the end of games).

Sometimes playing games against bad teams can be as useful a barometer of where a team stands. Duke should win this game. How they win this game will say a lot about what we can expect from the team going forward. Duke's last two games have been flat - lots of turnovers (and really careless turnovers) on the offensive end, and lack of energy on the defensive end resulting in too many easy baskets. That can't become a trend, and this game provides an excellent opportunity for the Devils to reverse the trend.

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