Pico dulce of the SB Nation St. John's Red Storm blog Rumble in the Garden kindly asked us to swap questions and answers for tonight's big game with the Johnnies in Rupp Arena. As usual with blog swaps, you can find his answers to my questions here at A Sea of Blue, and my answers to his questions over at Rumble in the Garden.
Be sure to check frequently RITG for the latest on St. John's. Let's get started, my questions are in bold.
1. We are obviously disappointed Coach Lavin won't be on the bench on Thursday, and wish him a speedy and complete recovery. How is St. Johns holding up with Lavin forced to step away to recover from his recent prostate surgery?
Under the circumstances, St. John's is doing well. Lavin told a few news outlets that he would be stepping back from his coaching duties
while he regains his stamina after the surgery; he felt that he rushed back too quickly.
The staff Lavin created has a couple of coaches who can take over in situations like this. Mike Dunlap has a lot of experience as a head coach on the Division II level, and was co-head coach with Russ Pennell at Arizona when Lute Olson stepped down. Dunlap is the technician, the second in command for Lavin, and gets a few looks for head coaching jobs every year. While not the personality that Lavin is, Dunlap relates well to the players, is a taskmaster of a teacher, and can run things in the interim. The rest of the staff - including Gene Keady as a special consultant, Tony Chiles with years of experience, and Rico Hines, who worked in player development on the NBA level - are no slouches either.
2. The Red Storm is struggling to shoot the ball from the perimeter, and this is clearly hurting their effective FG% numbers. What seems to be the trouble? Is it skill, shot selection, absent friends, what?
The team's shooting woes from the perimeter are a bit of a skill problem. It's not that the players can't hit shots, it's that they're still learning on the college level. And those shooting numbers are skewed by two players who haven't shot well yet from outside the arc, Maurice Harkless
and Nurdieen Lindsey - a combined 4 for 32 outside the arc. And the 4 makes are all Moe Harkless.
Harkless is still developing his range in general. Nurideen Lindsey
is more of a quick guard, but hit around 33% in Junior College. He hadn't hit a jump shot all season outside of the paint until last week, but he hit three against Northeastern; he's known to be an explosive scorer, but is more of an attacking guard than a shooter.
3. Turnovers killed St. John's against Arizona, and when Nurideen Lindsey fouled out, it was the death knell for that game. Can the Red Storm beat Kentucky with their depth problems? How?
St. John's has a lot of quickness, and an ability to capitalize on mistakes. If the Wildcats allow the Red Storm to get open looks in transition, a surprise could happen. Unless we see something new from the other ballhandlers, that surprise has to come from Nurideen Lindsey. He has the kind of quickness that has NBA scouts taking peeks at him as a sleeper, despite not playing much organized basketball in the past three years... and not having much of an outside shot.
But Lindsey's aggressiveness sometimes gets the best of him, and he's picked up offensive fouls looking for his shot. If Lindsey corrals that, he's a wizard at drawing fouls.
Depth is an issue, especially inside. God`sgift Achiuwa
is the only "center", and the other forwards are Harkless and Sir`Dominic Pointer. Moe Harkless is a 6'8 wing player with some interior skills, but he shouldn't be banging inside the way he will at some point against Anthony Davis and/ or Eloy Vargas. And Pointer is shorter. It's on interior defense where the ineligibility of Norvel Pelle/ Jakarr Sampson/ Amir Garrett
play a role.
But if Lindsey, Harrison, and God`sgift Achiuwa can handle the Cats with a zone and stay away from silly fouls, it may be less of an issue than one would think.
4. St. John's has a bunch of young players, much like Kentucky does. How are they doing, and who do you think is doing the best?
The difference between the recruiting classes is evident when looking at the Johnnies and the Wildcats' results. Kentucky has top-25 recruits, the kind of players who are ready to go from the first tip. St. John's players were ready to go; but with the players ranked 25-50, there is a little more of a learning curve. For what is realistic to expect of the Red Storm players, I'd say the freshmen are doing solidly. But they also have room to grow. Harkless has a wide range of skills, but is improving his finishing skills. Dom Pointer is developing his offense.
Harrison has probably been the most consistent. But Lindsey and Harkless have the most potential to be explosive.
5. What defense does St. John's like to play? What sort of offense can we expect?
St. John's runs a lot of matchup zone. It's been described as a 2-3 and a 1-3-1, but the characteristics Kentucky fans can expect are a) an extended defense b) attempts at traps and steals and c) open threes on the weak side. The Storm will show some man-to-man looks as well, and tend to collapse on the ball handler.
On offense, the Storm have seen a lot of zone. So they have patient sets designed to get the ball deep in the paint for Achiuwa, or in positions for Harrison/ Harkless to drive the ball or shoot. Harkless will get some looks just above the free throw line, in particular. Otherwise, the Johnnies try to attack in transition, where their speed and quickness is hard to handle for most teams.
Thanks to pico dulce and Rumble in the Garden for sharing their blog with us, and we hope for an entertaining contest tonight.