December 20, 2008

5 Keys to Winning Holiday Festival

The Red Storm (8-1) will play their first game of the 2008 Aeropostale' Holiday Festival on Saturday. Playing in their alternate home court (Madison Square Garden) the Johnnies will look to defeat Marist (3-6) to advance to Sunday's championship. If the Johnnies are to make it to Sunday's championship game they would then face the winner of Virginia Tech vs. Columbia.

The talent level of St. John's is superior to any other team in the tournament. At worst they should make it to championship game where I could see the Hokies of Virginia Tech giving them a tough time. However, the Red Storm must realize this tournament is played in their city on their alternate home court. There has to be some pride in defending your turf; and the Johnnies must do exactly that.

St. Johns is off to its best start since the 1994-95 season and are currently on a six game winning streak. In order to win this tournament they will have to continue to do all the little things that have gotten them off to such a great start. Unfortunately, the team received some bad news prior to the Holiday Festival as it was announced that sophomore forward Justin Burrell (10.8 points per game) will miss this weekends games after suffering a facial fracture. Burrell's presence surely will be missed. However, the Johnnies have more than enough talent to capture their third Holiday Festival title in five years.

Let's take a look at what St. John's needs to do in order to be successful:

1. Play for 40 minutes: Head coach Norm Roberts has preached this throughout the season and although his team has won eight of its nine games played this season at times they have looked to play uninspired ball. The Red Storm must not play down to the level of their competition. Teams are looking for the opportunity to knock of St. John's at the World's Most Famous Arena and the Johnnies must not give any opponent a glimmer of hope.

2. Who's Going to Step Up?: Anthony Mason Jr. went down and Paris Horne (team's second leading scorer) has stepped up remarkably. Now with Burrell out for at least two games who will be the next St. John's player to take advantage of this opportunity. The player that I believe has the best chance to make the most of this opportunity is Sean Evans. Evans (9.4 ppg, 5.4 rebounds per game) is coming off a career high 18 points against Bethune-Cookman and looks to be building confidence in the starting lineup.

With Burrell out fans should look for Evans to get the majority of the touches in the post. If the sophomore forward can be effective down low then that will open up everything for perimeter players like Horne and D.J. Kennedy.

3. Get the Crowd Involved: With the Johnnies essentially playing a home game; it is imperative that they get off to a good start and get the crowd on their side. If the Red Storm does not get off to a good start and take care of a below .500 Marist team; look for the crowd to get restless and uninterested. The fans at the Garden want to see the hometown team put on a good show and St. John's must deliver.

4. Keep Everyone Fresh: With the possibility of playing back to back afternoon games it is even more imperative that St. John's gets off to a good start. I am sure coach Roberts would like his starters well rested before Sunday's potential championship. Basically that means that the Red Storm needs a blowout of their first opponent Marist and there is no reason that they should not blowout the Red Foxes. Three of the six Marist losses this season have been by double digit point totals. Their last two losses to Siena and Cleveland State were by 17 and 19 points respectively.

The starters need to be fresh for Sunday's game especially with the aforementioned injury to Burrell. It is never easy playing back to back contests on any level and the Johnnies surely do not need to exert anymore energy than they have to.

5. Take Quality Shots: I truly believe one of the reasons St. John's has started off 8-1 is that the players have bought into the patience required in Coach Roberts offensive system. Granted they have not played the toughest competition thus far; the Johnnies have been patience in their offensive sets. They must continue to do so in the Holiday Festival.

Even when the shots are not falling; continuing the good trend of patient offensive sets will lead to good habits. That continuity will be effective when the shots are falling.

Prediction: The Johnnies will be pumped to play their first games at the Garden this weekend and will capture their third tournament title in five years.

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